Singapore football’s course over the next four years will now be guided by new Football Association of Singapore (FAS) chief Lim Kia Tong.
The New Paper looks at some of the pressing issues they have to instantly deal with.
The S.League has not been given the attention it deserves in the last few years.
The LionsXII’s participation in the Malaysian Super League from 2011 to 2015 meant it became the FAS’ main focus, instead of Singapore’s own professional league.
S.League administrators also made a major blunder in the proposed age-cap on players, a plan which was eventually scrapped because of the opposition it met with. Players, too, complained about the low wages and practice of 11-month contracts, and nothing has been done to improve the situation.
Hyundai Motors coming on board as co-title sponsors in February has lifted the gloom somewhat, although there is still much to be done.
Some in the local football fraternity have suggested increasing the number of clubs in the S.League, which currently has nine teams. Out of the nine clubs, six are local.
John Yap, chairman of Gombak United, who have sat out the S.League since 2012, said: “When we were a part of the S.League, there were 12 teams, and one season (in 2012) there were even 13.
“I feel a league with more teams is more vibrant, more competitive.
“There is talk that Singapore is small, and that justifies just having just a few (local) teams… I think that is wrong.
“I think our landscape can support a few more teams in the S.League.”
2. NFL & GRASSROOTS FOOTBALL
Considering the S.League’s woes over the years, imagine how bad the amateur National Football League (NFL) have it.
From 2015 to last year, the FAS spent about $8 million on the various national teams’ training costs.
During the same period, it spent about $250,000 on grassroots football, which includes the NFL.
But the FAS has made moves to rectify the situation.
Starting this year, the 23 NFL teams across Division 1 and 2 get seed money of $8,500 per club, group insurance from Great Eastern Singapore for their players, among other improvements.
Gurbachan Singh, operations manager of NFL Division 2 side Singapore Khalsa Association, said he was pleased with the commitment by the new council to make improvements for all NFL sides, saying “the previous FAS council were more interested in only the S.League and Division 1.”
Zairi Ahmari, club secretary for Division 1 side Sporting Westlake, said he hopes the changes do not merely represent a false dawn.
“What we have fought for has been given,” he said.
“Definitely, we look forward to better things.”
Whether the FAS will continue to make improvements to the long-neglected NFL, remains to be seen.
3. FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT
During the campaign, Team LKT came up with the vision of building a national team that would consistently win the AFF Suzuki Cup and South-east Asia Games.
Those are bold targets, considering the Lions went into the Suzuki Cup as underdogs in three (1998, 2004 and 2012) of their four successes, and the fact Singapore have never won a SEA Games football gold medal in the biennial competition’s 58-year history.
The FAS believes the key to building a strong national team is to create a conveyor belt of talent, so in April 2014 it roped in Michel Sablon, who came up with a blueprint.
Sablon was the man largely credited with developing Belgium’s current golden generation of players such as Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard.
Last October, the FAS also formed a new age-group national team – the Under-20s – with Fandi Ahmad taking the helm, in hopes of preventing late-bloomers from slipping through the cracks and disappearing from the game.
Khairul Asyraf, technical director of NFL Division 1 champions Eunos Crescent and co-founder of the 2Touch Soccer School, said: “The exco of the new FAS council must decide matters in the future such as national coach, technical director and national playing philosophy, in consultation with the the technical committee.
“As for Sablon, he came with a lot of promise, and on paper (his blueprint for Singapore football) has more ticks than crosses… I’m not completely convinced but I want to be, and someone with his credentials should be given the benefit of doubt.”
4. FUTURE OF KEY FAS SECRETARIAT POSITIONS
Barely an hour after being elected, Lim was asked about the future of FAS general secretary Winston Lee.
Lee, who has been in his present role since 2008, was involved in a public war of words with Game Changers’ Ng over the controversial $500,000 the latter donated from Tiong Bahru Football Club’s funds for the Asean Football Federation’s (AFF) Football Management System.
The 52-year-old Lee was present during Saturday’s election but left the venue before the post-election press conference.
When asked about Lee’s future, Lim said: “We’ll deal with each staff behind closed doors. We have to respect the terms of their employment contracts… we won’t make any comment on his future and it is best left to be decided much, much later.”
A week earlier, Bernard Tan, who was on Saturday voted in as Lim’s deputy president, said: “It’s as good as saying whether we will keep (national coach) Sundram or Fandi.
“We do not discuss staff issues like that. It is highly inappropriate. To be fair to the people employed, they have contracts, and they deserve to be treated in a way that’s professional.”
Besides the position of general secretary, the S.League chief executive’s seat is also vacant, after Lim Chin left the role last month.
Lim, however, said he and his new council have not yet decided if it intends to find a new man for the role, or instead make structural changes to the S.League which might see the position become obsolete.
5. TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY
One of the 10 points on Team LKT’s manifesto was: Create a transparent FAS that has a high standard of administration.
Cleaning up the FAS’ image and ensuring transparency will be high on its to-do list, especially after the controversy that shrouded Ng’s $500,000 donation.
Ng claimed he had donated the money to FAS – who explained they had facilitated the donation to the AFF.
But Lim, Tan, and the new council’s vice-presidents Edwin Tong, Razali Saad and S Thavaneson – who were all on the previous council – all claimed they had no knowledge of the donation.
If this is true, then it shows major problems with accountability.
Lau Kok Keng, who ran as deputy president on the Game Changers’ slate, said: “No one in this country would have imagined that the council was led by one man alone, and the rest did not know what was going on.
“All NSAs are societies, and a lot of them – like FAS – have a lot of money.
“So maybe (the whole donation saga) calls for some kind of examination… and we will see what the new council does.”