Player development is the overarching philosophy behind the Courts Young Lions but, even with that mantra in mind, the 2015 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season will be a distinctly different one for the team.
The South-east Asia (SEA) Games, to be hosted by Singapore in June - and not results in the league - will be the sole target of Aide Iskandar's side that are effectively the national Under-23 team.
"What's important, is the SEA Games. We must be tactful, we don't want to be going for results (in the league), and end up fatigued during the SEA Games - that's crucial," Aide told The New Paper, on the sidelines of the launch of the Young Lions' 2015 S.League season yesterday.
The football competition at the SEA Games is an Under-23 affair, and the team are gunning to win Singapore's first-ever gold medal in the sport.
"We have seven games in April, and we must manage it such that the players in our 26-man squad are not fatigued," said Aide, who emphasised that the 26 players are not the only ones challenging for a spot in the final SEA Games squad.
The football tournament is scheduled to kick off in the last week of May, ahead of the opening ceremony on June 5.
"This squad are not the final team... I'd like to have a look at the players from the Olympic team (Under-22), the (national) Under-18 team, and I'm not ruling out players from S.League clubs and their Prime League (Under-21) sides," said the former Singapore captain.
"But whoever wants to come (into the SEA Games squad) must first meet our expectations."
In his speech at the launch at the Singapore Sports Hub's Sports Museum, Aide gave special mention to the Ministry of Community, Culture and Sports, Sport Singapore as well as the Ministry of Defence that has, in addition to deferring of players poised for enlistment into National Service before the SEA Games, granted time off and days off for players who are currently full-time National Servicemen.
No effort has been spared to prepare this team for the Games, and even the non-Singaporeans in the Young Lions side are willing to make sacrifices.
Canadians Jordan Webb and Sherif El-Masri, who both have a year to run on their Young Lions contracts, have agreed to sit out competitive games with the club until the end of the Games to allow the local boys more time to gel together.
"They've acknowledged that the team need to prepare for the SEA Games, and were willing to sacrifice the first half of the year, so the team can properly prepare. But we signed a two-year contract with them last year, and we have to be fair to them," said Aide, who revealed that Webb, 26, rejoined training yesterday, while 25-year-old El-Masri has been allowed to go for trials with other clubs.
The pair of attacking players were believed to have been brought into the Young Lions with a view to naturalisation for the national team.
They are poised to rejoin the team after the SEA Games for the second half of the year, when the Young Lions turn their attention back to the S.League.
This article was first published on February 28, 2015.
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