Read off today's The New Paper and on their centre spread, there's a discussion about should the local footballers advance their careers abroad, especially in Malaysia, where quite a number of players have attracted the interests of the teams across the causeway. This forum happened because TNP's associate editor had run an article on FAS being unable to hold on to our local talents.
Because of the achievements the LionXII had achieved in the past 2 seasons in the Malaysia League and Cup, quite a number of players had also stood out with the consistent displays. Week in week out, team coaches can be able to see how good our players are. Naturally they would be interested in them compared to paying big amounts to unheard foreign players. But for our locals to play there, it does not seem to make any difference in playing standards, because they will still be playing with the same opponents. The major difference would be the pay, where FAS would unlikely be able to match. This has been an ongoing problem in providing a sustainable career for our footballers. And if the players decided to venture abroad, is FAS fretting about not being able to produce enough talents to replace them?
Remember the few players that went to Indonesia to ply their trade? Where are they now? Players like Nor Alam Shah, Itimi Dickson, Agu Casmir and Muhd Ridhuan, they were in their prime when they joined various Indonesian teams. Discounting the fact that most of them encountered financial problem with their clubs, they were deemed not good enough for the National Team. No doubt they became major stars in Indonesia and rearned big bucks, but their form literally deteriorated at the highest level needed for the National team. Even John Wilkinson, who had a short stint in India, playing in an inferior league, came back playing not like he used to be.
While it's good that our players are attracting interests from foreign clubs, they should be aiming to play at a higher level compared to the MSL and S League, that's where they can really improve their game. Choosing any MSL teams is just playing the safety game in staying within their comfort zone. Japan, Korea and Australia may seem out of reach, but certainly Vietnamese and Thai Leagues are certainly of a higher standards. Just look at their progresses in the Asian Champions League. They have also been exporting some of their best players, attracting interests from China, Japan and Korea. At this moment, our locals are still not up to the standards yet, sadly after so many years of professional football.
With so many red tapes governing the boys in terms of National Service, it also throws a spanner into the works, disrupting the training and development plans for good players. And what has MINDEF of FAS has done? The players have to work around the issue because National Service is mandatory for all Singaporean males. 2 years out the game is as good as giving football up totally on a professional level. Top schools are getting smarter by offering scholarships and direct admissions to talented players just to help them to achieve glory at schools level. And when the players get into top schools, they are crammed with trainings and the need to achieve good grades. With the pressure to perform on both fronts, players will tend to drop out of the sport one they complete their studies. It's simple to understand if they can achieve academically, they are sure to find stability on their future careers. Playing professionally locally, it just seems unsustainable locally even in the future 10 years.
Our S League is still not strong enough to generate corporate interests in them. If FAS is able to make so many heroes out of the LionsXII in the past 2 years, what have they done for the local S League? While they did try to change, but things are still not going the way they want. Firstly, the clubs should be given more rein rather than red tapes. FAS should not even poach the local players who are under the clubs' payroll. Secondly, even though there have been increased media coverage in recent years, they still paled in comparison with the MSL. Thirdly, If corporate sponsors are so willing to step in to support the LionsXII, S League and FAS should be doing more to channel this corporate sponsors to adopt the local clubs so that there can be an established identity and support. this may even bring in the crowds.