LionsXII may extend MSL experience

SINGAPORE'S involvement in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) looks set to continue beyond its initial expiry date.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin yesterday hinted that the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which has allowed the LionsXII to play in the MSL since 2012 and was set to end this year, could be extended.

While he declined to go into specifics, he said he would be meeting Football Association of Malaysia officials soon to discuss the future of the LionsXII.

The team, who will be sporting new kits this year, kick off their fourth MSL campaign with a home match against PDRM at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.

Calling the LionsXII experiment an overall success, Zainudin said: "The way we've done things, the way we've engaged fans and brought back the excitement of football, has been positive.

"We've also created a new product that has become a marketing juggernaut, and on these two fronts, all is positive.

"My view is to go into (the meeting) with an open mind, and I'd like both parties to share (what they have learnt)."

He added that these positives outweigh concerns that the arrangement robs the domestic S-League of its best players.

Said Zainudin: "People can always find (something) to be negative about.

There's a lot of noise and criticism, but overall it's been a positive experience for Singapore football."

The LionsXII have done reasonably well since joining the MSL.

They finished second in their debut season in 2012, before winning the title the following year.

Last season, the team finished eighth in the 12-team league after losing key players Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun.

Results aside, what pleased the FAS chief most was the blooding of players for the national team.

For instance, Gabriel Quak, who joined from the get-go, got his nine international caps as a LionsXII player.

Said winger Quak: "Being in the LionsXII helped me as a player, especially mentally, because I have to deal with hostile crowds and the pressure of performing on a weekly basis.

"I'm still learning. Last season wasn't great for me and I want to set things right this year."

Faris Ramli and Madhu Mohana also nudged their way into the international fold after joining the team.

Said Zainudin: "I'd like very much for the team to do well but we must always remember: Fundamentally (it) is the development of players for the national team that should be the target.

"If we groom them well to play good football with passion and commitment, even if the team lose I will still support them. And I believe our fans are like that."

LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad agreed. He said: "It's not easy.

As much as we want results, we also want to develop young players.

"One thing I enjoyed last season was giving more exposure to the younger players, and some of them responded well and took up the responsibility of becoming important members of the team.

"I hope that trend continues."

This article was first published on Feb 4, 2015.
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