S. League: Geylang all at sea

They are Singapore football's most storied club.

Like Juventus in Italy, Geylang International are the "Grand Old Lady" here, a club often associated with success and professionalism.

Geylang used to command respect everywhere in the local football industry, even when they experienced lean times on the annual treasure hunt.

Today, they are reeling, close to hitting bottom.

The club have lost their first three games in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League and coach V Kanan is apparently about to be replaced by Jorg Steinebrunner.

The club's Prime League side have been in disarray.

A little over a week into the season, many of the players were still not fit enough to pass the mandatory 2.4km test, the Under-21 side struggled to have substitutes at the opening two matches, and until today, the coaching credentials of Nazareno Velez, the Argentinian brought in to run the rule over the developmental team that are supposed to feed the senior side doing battle in the S.League, has yet to be acknowledged by the Football Association of Singapore.

It is a farce and completely against how Geylang used to operate.

The buck has to stop with chairman Leong Kok Fann.

The former Singapore international midfielder and captain took over the stewardship of the club in January 2012 from veteran football administrator Patrick Ang.

I know many in the local football community, from the fans right up to the bigwigs in boardrooms, were loathe to see Ang leave the scene.

But the businessman publicly backed Leong at the time, saying the club would scale new heights under the new leadership.

They have gone backwards, instead.

In Ang's final year, the Eagles finished eighth out of 12 teams in the S.League.

Under Leong's chairmanship, the Eagles finished 11th out of 13 teams in 2012 and ninth out of 12 sides last year.

On Wednesday, there are joint-bottom with Malaysia's Harimau Muda B, one point behind the Courts Young Lions, who they meet on Thursday at the Bedok Stadium.

Depleted

In their 3-0 loss to champions Tampines last Sunday, the Eagles fielded Siddiq Durimi, tagged as the reserve goalkeeper in the first-team squad, as a centre back.

Siddiq also played as a right back for Home United in five matches in the League Cup in 2009 and he also started in midfield for Geylang in an AFC Cup match in 2010, but surely this kind of doubling up is the stuff of amateur football.

Siddiq may be versatile, but such an approach to player selection is not the way of a professional club, it is an embarrassment to a professional league that is now into its 19th year and fighting to convince Singaporeans it is worthy of support.

S.League clubs face an annual battle to raise revenue and Geylang are no exception.

But the S.League has increased its monetary contribution to clubs and has also introduced the marquee player initiative. Some clubs, including Geylang, also collect revenue from jackpot machines.

Yet, the Eagles are struggling while a club like Balestier Khalsa, who have consistently faced an uphill task to challenge for silverware because of budget constraints, have had enough this year to assemble a squad they feel are good enough to vie for the S.League title.

They have even made a marquee signing in Croatian striker Goran Ljubojevic, who is going great guns.

By all accounts, Leong sanctioned Kanan's close-season trip halfway round the world to Argentina, and the coach returned with two midfielders and a striker.

They have yet to impress.

And after three games, Leong is about to wield the axe.

Some of the greatest footballers in Singapore have starred for Geylang.

The club were once the benchmark for the rest in the country.

The S.League kicked off in 1996 with a bang, and Geylang stood at the top, crowned champions.

Today they are a shell of the club they once were.

Leong needs to do much more.


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