Stags lead LionsXII hunt

Last Friday, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) confirmed the LionsXII squad would be disbanded, with the players released to S.League clubs for the 2016 season.

In the statement last week, the FAS said it would discuss with the clubs how exactly the players would be released, and would make an announcement this week.

But, less than 24 hours later, Geylang International announced the signing of LionsXII right back and Singapore international Faritz Hameed, with the club even posting a photograph of the defender with new club chairman Ben Teng on their official Facebook page.

In response to queries from The New Paper, an FAS spokesman said that the wheels are in fact already in motion to integrate the LionsXII players into S.League clubs.

At a meeting with club chairmen last Friday, the FAS said that "they are allowed to sign LionsXll players using the open market system as long as they can agree to a deal with them".

"LionsXll players who are not signed at a date to be determined later will then be drafted into the respective clubs," said the spokesman.

The statement did not clarify the system under which players would be drafted in the second phase of acquisition.

While Geylang have secured the services of Faritz and Hougang United are understood to have signed Raihan Rahman, it is Tampines Rovers who are leading the LionsXII hunt.

The Stags have already signed six from Fandi Ahmad's Malaysian FA Cup-winning squad, as they look to rebuild after missing out on silverware this year.

Izzdin Shafiq, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Sufian Anuar, Firdaus Kasman, Afiq Yunos and Christopher van Huizen have joined the Stags, whose coach V Sundramoorthy led the LionsXII to the Malaysian Super League title in 2013.

While van Huizen was not part of that team, Sundram has also signed former LionsXII forward Fazrul Nawaz from Warriors FC.

"We've released about two-thirds of our squad, and wanted to get ourselves a new and younger roster. And when it was announced that the LionsXII were releasing their players, it presented an opportunity to build our new squad with gifted local players," Tampines chairman Murali Krishna Ramachandra told TNP.

Tampines, who have retained the services of only five players from the 22-man squad of 2015 - Mustafic Fahrudin, Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Fabian Kwok and goalkeeper Joey Sim - will represent Singapore in the AFC Champions League play-off for a spot in the group stages and will travel to India to face Mohun Bagan in a one-off match on Jan 27.

Late last month, the Football Association of Malaysia made the shock announcement that the LionsXII would not continue to play in their club competitions from next year.



With the players in limbo - most of the squad are Singapore internationals - the FAS made the promise it would keep all of them on their current wages for one year.

The salary of a LionsXII player is higher than the average S.League salary, which is understood to be $3,000.

But Tampines supremo Ramachandra said: "There won't be subsidies on wages (for our players), because we are paying a premium on selecting players who fit our team requirements.

"But it is possible that players who have previous contracts with S.League clubs (before joining the LionsXII) will be given the first right of refusal, and perhaps there will be subsidies for that."

Lawyer Ramachandra was pleasantly surprised over the negotiations with the LionsXII players.

"None of the players discussed financial terms with us, but first asked about how the club can contribute to their growth and football development," he said, looking forward with optimism to a season where Tampines will aim to dominate local football again.

"We are approaching 2016 with a lot of positivity and the aim is, as it always has been at Tampines, to get trophies."

This article was first published on December 10, 2015.
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