S. League set to go young

PHOTO: The New Paper

Fewer foreign imports, more young players.

That seems to be the direction the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League is headed next season, as the ASEAN Super League (ASL) looms with a likely 2017 kick-off date.

The New Paper understands that the S.League is working on tweaks to rules for next year's competition, which include reducing the number of foreign players and including a minimum number of local players under the age of 23 in matchday squads.

Currently, each club are allowed to sign four foreigners for their S.League squad and one under the age of 23 to be registered as a Prime League player.

This Prime League import can take the place of one of the S.League-registered imports in a matchday squad.

Under the proposed changes, each team could be limited to just three foreign imports and possibly two of them may have to be below the age of 23, with a view of being naturalised for the national team if the player shows potential.

No rules about fielding young local players currently exist, but there is talk the S.League might make it compulsory to name an Under-23 or U-21 local player in each team's starting 11.

Responding to The New Paper's queries yesterday, a spokesman for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said: "The S.League has been engaged in discussions with various stakeholders including club chairmen and we have explored various possibilities aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the league and also in producing more players for the national team.

"One of the possible changes we are exploring is to reduce the number of foreign players in each club, so as to allow more locals to play regular football as part of our ongoing efforts in supporting the development of the national team.

"The S.League is finalising the details for next season and we will inform all stakeholders in due course."

S Thavaneson, chairman of S.League club Balestier Khalsa, did not shed light on any changes, but said he would welcome a more youthful-looking competition.

"I think the S.League has got to go back to its original aim and be a platform that has to be a supply base for the national team," he said.

"By 2017, most of our national players will be playing in the ASL.

"So if we want to produce players for the national team, then we must ensure there's something in the system to make clubs induct young talent and give them game time.


"I've always held the opinion that if you throw young players into the deep end, into S.League football, they will develop faster."

Home United coach Philippe Aw has regularly fielded a number of U-23 players in the S.League this season.

"This is a chance to give youths a chance to play," said the rookie S.League coach, who spent the previous six years guiding Home's reserve and youth sides.

"It's not guaranteed to succeed, but why not give it a shot?

"Many times in the past, we've seen how clubs groom talent only to see them fall out of the system, partly because they don't get a chance in the S.League.

"Maybe with this change, the flow from the youth teams to the first team will begin."

Warriors coach Alex Weaver, however, did not see the point of reducing the number of foreign players and imposing an age limit on them.

He added that the continuing uncertainty over next year's rule changes at this stage of the year did not reflect well on the communication between the FAS and S.League clubs.

Thava, though, believes the changes will benefit local football.

"If the system is tweaked, it will be even for all clubs," said the veteran football administrator.

"We will all be at the same starting point. I would be supportive of the changes."


This article was first published on September 30, 2015.
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