Sunday, September 6, 2009

Point of View – Looked back at 2005 season

The tenth year of the S-league came and went and once again issues popped up that caught this author eye.

The first topic to pop up was the salary cap after a different issue arises.

Across the Causeway, FAM, after the disappointment over the poor quality of foreigners, issued a guideline for teams and questions were raised in the Republic if such guidelines should also be implemented but FAS insisted the clubs should have the final say in employment of foreigners as FAS trust the clubs judgments.

But there lie the crux of the question as the salary cap affected the clubs in much wider area and yet the clubs have no say in what range they feel are acceptable and they can only accept what the top brass decided.

Clearly this cannot be correct as FAS - over an interview in - insist the clubs have developed well over the last 10 years in tough conditions and are now more capable of managing themselves in a professional environment.

The yardstick must then be the salary cap as the clubs that wished to develop more rapidly are now trapped by the constraint of the salary cap - that have been set low to ensure the survival of weaker clubs - and voices have been raised why the stronger clubs that wished to take the next step towards the next level cannot do so.

As a tool, the salary cap have ensure the survival of the league against the worst effects of the Bonsom ruling and recessions in it early years but now it has the opposite effect for it is denying clubs the right to move towards the next level which will further cement the league and clubs survival.

Next up is the exposure of young players and by that, it means the non-recruitment of Young Lions players from clubs participating in Asia.

Some may have seen me bitching about this before but this is an important issue that cannot be ignored for the second year in row.

The local teams fought their way into quarter-final and along the way 16 tough matches was played against the champions of Hong Kong, Malaysia, Maldives, Lebanon and Jordan.

Yet, few of our brightest U23 players saw any action and the simple reason was that the Young Lions had recruited them and this is crazy for FAS had always stated they wanted young players to have more exposure at the international stage.

The, by now, lame excuse that our players do not adapt well in West Asia looked ridiculous as a rare chance to play competitive football in that part of the region was there for the younger players and no one took advantage of it.

A policy that can be more flexible must be implemented for our U23 who need to see actions in West Asia.

Every year FAS refused to take into accounts such considerations is a waste of the golden opportunity to improve the Republic brightest young footballers as it is unbelievable the loss of a few youngsters in the rank of the Young Lions would caused the destruction of the team as the pool for local footballers cannot be that small.

While on the Young Lions, this author wished to express his constant belief (and fears) that playing in Malaysia domestic scene is a step in the wrong direction for history have shown how badly a turn FAS took the Republic in the 1990s when the bank was emptied to fund a recruitment of players capable of winning the Malaysia Cup.

The Republic did won the Cup but the price was the total dismantle of youth policies and the total disregard of the future and once the team start aging, that was the case when Tiger Cup was launched 2 years down the road with the aging team not able to battle it way into the semi-final.

No football association in the world would have done what FAS did, no matter how highly it regarded the Malaysia Cup, for as a football association its main job is to safeguard the Republic future but they failed miserably as FAS ran the Republic National Team as a club on a day to day basis so the main priority was to get results and win trophies.

The most important factor though was the total neglect of international stage with a myth developed by the media and public that doing well in Malaysia football was equal to achieving success at international level to the point foreigners, who could never played in international competition for Singapore, was make a mainstay in the Republic team.

It had a blinding effect for when the wheel started to turn against the Republic in the early 1990s in the ASEAN stage, nobody bothered about it as success was found in Malaysia so like the frog in the well we knew nothing about the danger posed with the return of Vietnam and Myanmar and the fact they treated the international stage as their playground and not the domestic scene of a fellow ASEAN country.

If returning to Malaysia mean the retreat of Singapore back to Malaysia domestic scene then FAS would have much to answer as the Republic had never achieved as much success in the international stage with 2 Tiger Cup victories.

Not leaving the international stage, the focus is switch to S-league and AFC Cup.

It is about giving the S-league teams as high a possibility to win the AFC Cup so rescheduling game in the week for the 2 clubs in Asia is a must and not just moving them back by a few days, like this year, for Asia is a huge continent and playing in places like Hong Kong already is much further than most European teams travel and these clubs are already complaining of tiredness with their bigger squad.

The rest period for local clubs therefore must be reasonable and it is not the case this year for both teams - Tampines Rovers and Home United – with fewer than 20 first teamers had the games coming in thick and fast and under such tough conditions against tough oppositions, the chances of winning the AFC Cup are greatly discounted.

After all, the 2 finalists - Al Ittihad and Al Ain - in the AFC Champions League received such help from their respective league in their quest and the AFC Cup is important to the continued development of club football in the Republic with the promise of higher standard of international football in the AFC Champion League.

After much ranting on Asia, a return to the domestic scene and there was delight FAS was taking great care in choosing the new entries for next season S-league for who can forget the Sinchi debacle (over the last 3 years) and the ‘soft belly’ shown by the Seahorses management.

Indeed at the time of writing, the rumors of the choice of Gombak United and Afrique FC seem logical as well as putting the stop on the buyout of the Seahorses by the Dolphins.

The Dolphins, before their pullout of the S-league, had always endured financial problems and no evidence suggest that the circumstances have changed over the 2 years they were out so joining forces with the soft belly of the Seahorses is hardly going to bring joy to S-league or Hougang.

On the subject of the returning Bulls, it seems Gombak United will not return to ex-Home Stadium, Gombak Stadium but will move to the soon-to-complete West Jurong Stadium.

On first glance, it looked a great deal for the Bulls but now the branding work done at Gombak is gone and everything is set to over again so the concept of belonging which the S-league has preached since the start of the league is at stake.

Just looked at Yishun stadium, the stadium is set to welcome a new team – likely to be Afrique FC – after seeing the departure of Young Lions and it is difficult to see continued efforts to lure the neighborhoods to the team with the consistent changing in home team.

With the entry of new teams, one always hoped they continued the efforts to embrace the internet world for it is remarkable that at the end of the current season, 8 of the clubs have website and all are running up-to-date.

In years gone by, even if a club started a site, the chances are that by midway in the season the site would no longer be operating and any hope it would function again would be a pipe dream.

Therefore, this season marked a change that is acceptable as a good start.

After that, come the old topic of Super Clubs for the conditions for such a scenario seem more promising now with clubs more willing to invest in order to make the next grade and the salary cap finally raised for the first in 8 years.

Out of the Big 5 as least 4 are in prime condition to see it happening.

However, not all will make the grade but if out of the Big 5, 2 to 3 clubs make it, the football in the Republic will surely rise to new height as the benefits are unimaginable as one looked at the Super Clubs overseas for it is these clubs which bring in the high end of the development, financial and football benefits.

Looked no further than 2004 AFC Cup finalist Al-Wahda.

As a Super Club in it own country, Syria, it brought in the funds and crowds and many grow up dreaming of playing for it and while still a long away from happening in Singapore, it will only develop if big clubs developed into Super clubs thus the continued discussion of such a topic.

One of the piece to the Super club puzzle is the financial worthwhile and a sizeable part will always be formed by the prize money on offer and this year saw the rewarding of 9 of 10 placing in the league but the portion for prize money is still at the low end as a increase to S$150000 for the league champion is barely appealing enough with a poor-run Sinchi receiving S$120000 in seed money.

That is certainly why 6 clubs rejected the seed and prize package for next season and wishes to take a look at the financial books.

The problems are certainly not small and it stand in the way of clubs developing to the next level as well as FAS high hope of turning S-league into ASEAN top league in 5 years and then towards Asia top 10.

It is especially tough when those higher up spared no effort in whacking you and these words that demanded

FAS wake up and focus on the S-league are not my mouth but from AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam, who launched Vision Asia in September 2002, and at time one wonder if Singapore will miss that boat thank to FAS.

With that, one has about covered the affairs going on in Singapore for the 2005 S-league season.

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