LionsXII players to join S-League

The glass doors swung open at 4pm. One by one, the footballers trooped out. A sign of the times, a few even made their exits on electric scooters.

Most of the players were tight-lipped. A few smiled. Many showed little expression, while others appeared glum.

The LionsXII are no more. That was why; even if it is only for a year.

The news was broken to Fandi Ahmad's squad yesterday by Football Association of Singapore (FAS) officials afternoon in a team meeting at ITE College Central. "We are all feeling sad now," said centre-back Madhu Mohana.

"We had become a family after (spending) the last few years together and it is sad that we are going our separate ways."

Hours after the meeting, FAS general secretary Winston Lee said in a statement: "We have extensively discussed the options available to us and, while it is not an easy decision, we have decided the best way forward would be to integrate our LionsXII players into the various S-League clubs, while retaining a few senior players to lead and guide our young team in the S-League next season."

The FAS was initially keen to keep the LionsXII, which were booted out of next season's Malaysian Super League (MSL) last week, together. The plan was for them to play in the S-League next year to prepare for the inaugural ASEAN Super League season in 2017.

But with the Courts Young Lions, a national developmental team, also playing in the domestic league, it could lead to the issue of a conflict of interest should both sides play in the same competition.

The disbanding of the LionsXII is likely to see Fandi take over as the Young Lions' coach, with current trainer Juergen Raab's contract due to expire at the end of this month.

It is not so clear cut with the rest of the team, though.

Players who receive better offers overseas are free to go. Midfielder Safuwan Baharudin and forward Khairul Amri are said to be on the radars of MSL sides.

The majority, however, now find themselves in a mad rush to find suitors.

Already, Tampines are said to be on the trail of Madhu, midfielder Izzdin Shafiq and tricky wingers Faris Ramli and Christopher van Huizen.

For fringe players not snapped up, they will likely be put into a draft system where all local S-League clubs are expected to pick from.

One consolation is that the FAS has assured the bulk of the LionsXII players that they will be guaranteed contracts on the same salaries next year. Even if the player has to take a pay cut at his S-League club, the association will top up the difference.

The Straits Times understands that the FAS could pay up to 30 per cent of a player's salary if he cannot command a similar wage at his new club. The moves have, however, caused some concern among S-League clubs who fear that they will be forced to pick LionsXII players they may not want in the draft.

The system could also raise the possibility of S-League players making way for the LionsXII players in the draft. The FAS will make a further announcement by the end of next week.

Meanwhile, LionsXII and national fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko has left the FAS after 11 years. The Serb will join Thai Premier League club Chonburi.

This article was first published on December 5, 2015.
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