J-League a goal for local talent

Mr Zaunudin Nordin (left), president of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and Mr Koichi Endo, managing director of Epson Singapore, signing a new sponsorship deal on 28 August 2013. Looking on is Mr Winston Lee (centre), general secretary of FAS.

Hariss Harun recently turned down a move to join Portuguese top-flight club Rio Ave.

But Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin remains confident a Singaporean footballer will play in a top professional league soon.

Speaking on the sidelines of the announcement of a $1-million, three-year sponsorship agreement between Japanese electronics giants Epson and the FAS yesterday, Zainudin said the deal could open another door for local players who want to ply their trade abroad.

Epson have sponsored second-tier J-League side Yamaga Matsumoto since 2005, and have been the official office equipment suppliers for English Premier League champions Manchester United since 2010.

Zainudin told The New Paper: "I am confident that in the next few years we will see our players play (professionally) in a higher league... the J-League? Why not?

Positive

"I hope our players can realise their dreams soon, and I'll continue to try my very best and always to stay positive."

Three weeks ago, TNP reported that Portuguese side Rio Ave, through the FAS' efforts, had offered Singapore midfield star and LionsXII vice-captain Hariss a professional contract.

While well behind the history, wealth and glamour of Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon, Rio Ave had only just missed out on a spot in this season's Europa League by a point.

But the 22-year-old rejected the opportunity, with the low salary offered apparently among the reasons behind his shock decision.

Talented forward Adam Swandi, 17, is currently on a two-year stint at the football academy of French club FC Metz, while attacking midfielder Mahathir Azeman, also 17, has snagged a one-year youth contract with Rio de Janeiro club Boavista.

Yesterday, Zainudin reiterated the FAS's goal to continue to build contacts with the world's biggest football names, in the hope it could help further boost the sport locally.

When asked if setting up a training stint for a youngster at Man United was a possibility, Zainudin said: "The first step is getting to know people who have a direct line (to these clubs).

"But I'm not going to put them (sponsors Epson) in a corner and say 'die, die' you must give me a connection to the club.

"We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Japanese Football Association and the J-League, and now we've got a partner in Epson... We are working with people who know football."

As part of the deal, Epson will provide FAS with office equipment and - "e-learning boards" - a form of interactive projectors which will be used by the coaches of various FAS teams.

More than a month ago, Epson installed two large display projectors, understood to cost about $100,000, at two ends of the Jalan Besar Stadium to enhance the match-day experience for fans.

The latest deal will see Epson buy A-Boards for games at Jalan Besar Stadium and could also feature national players endorsing their products.

Koichi Endo, managing director of Epson Singapore, said: "Youth development has been an important area of focus for our CSR efforts and sponsorships in this region, and football, which builds confidence and teamwork in young people, is an ideal platform for our involvement.

"We are deeply honoured and grateful for this opportunity to assist in funding and applying our innovations to support the FAS in cultivating football excellence and nurturing Singapore's next generation of footballers."


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