The conclusion of the Rugby World Cup last month threw up a lot of debate about the role of the different national associations. The winners, New Zealand, and runners-up, Australia, have associations who run club/franchise teams with the aim of ensuring the national team is successful, while the tournament’s biggest underachievers, England, have a domestic league run by private owners who understandably prioritize their own success.
Football Associations have always followed the English rugby model. But with the S.League at a crossroads and the FAS’s last long term plan a failure is it time to adopt a radical re-think?
The current 10-team league, with three foreign clubs, runs up significant bills. Clubs close, merge or sit out seasons routinely because of money issues. The current seven local clubs have close to 30 foreign players. Is spending FIFA grant money on a failing product with such a high foreign interest really to the benefit of the Singapore national team?
Clearly it would be ideal to have a successful league and national team but for smaller nations such as Singapore, sometimes that just isn’t possible.
Even with the Lions XII expected to play in the S.League next season before they run off to the ASEAN Super League the following year, I’m not sure it will make a significant difference to a product that has such a poor reputation.
The Lions XII is a good idea, if placed among adequate competition. Whether that is the ASEAN Super League is another debate.
Singapore boss Bernd Stange was adamant after World Cup defeats by Japan and Syria that his players needed more of everything – coaching and experience. Players needed to be competing in better leagues than Malaysia and Singapore week in and week out, he said.
So, and I don’t say this whimsically, perhaps the S.League as we know it should be scrapped.
Maintain the Lions XII and keep the Young Lions but also play them in a foreign league. Contracting the best 40-45 players to work and train under FAS instruction with bigger budgets, better resources and one consistent coaching pattern determined by their new(ish) technical director Michel Sablon is likely to ensure better results.
There are enough burgeoning amateur football leagues and well funded private youth academies on the island that can fill the void of the unloved S.League which barely gets a mention in The Straits Times.
It is a radical step but one the notoriously cautious FAS should consider.
If Iceland can qualify for Euro 2016 with the lack of population and climate issues with a clever model, then there remains hope for Singapore.