LionsXII uncertain about their future
Players fretting over their future after being stunned by FAM's decision
How bro, ada kosong tak (got a job vacancy in Malay)?
The LionsXII players may have put on a brave front with some gallows humour as they were about to depart from the Kuantan airport yesterday afternoon.
But it was clear the sting from the 4-1 Malaysia Cup quarter-final, first-leg defeat by Pahang couldn't match the shock of being booted out of Malaysian competitions by the Football Association of Malaysia late on Tuesday night, when it was announced the partnership with Singapore will not be renewed.
Still under reconstruction, the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport looked dilapidated with just two rundown check-in counters, electrical cables dangling from disconnected monitors, and visitors sweating in the 33 deg C heat without air conditioning.
A few locals approached the LionsXII players for a wefie, and were obliged with polite but contrived smiles.
Understandably so, because the Singaporeans were feeling the heat of the situation and were still unable to reconcile what had happened the previous 12 hours.
Some of the players and officials were reminiscing as they watched past years' highlights on their mobile phones, knowing their team will not play in Malaysia next year.
There was none of their customary pranks and laughs as they quietly sank back into their seats and looked like they were contemplating what lies ahead.
They were also advised not to speak to the media, but the uncertainty of their future was hard to take, as one player, who declined to be named, told The New Paper: "I'm feeling shocked, confused, frustrated, angry and helpless.
"To find out on social media that we were kicked out, and not knowing what lies ahead for us next season, is a horrible feeling.
"Some players have just started a family, some are planning to get married, so it's really tough.
"FAS officials have spoken to us and tried to reassure us and we really hope there will be a positive conclusion to this controversy."
This is no ordinary club going out of business.
In their 27-man squad, aged between 18 and 28, 21 have international caps, and around half of the team can be considered national-team regulars, while six won the Suzuki Cup in 2012, the year the LionsXII were established.
In just four years, and with an all-local side, they won the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title in 2013 and the Malaysian FA Cup this year, picking up more titles than powerhouses Selangor, an equal number of silverware as Johor Darul Ta'zim, and fewer than only Kelantan (four) and Pahang (three).
And all of them - even for Safuwan Baharudin, who has a year remaining on his LionsXII contract as compared to his out-of-contract colleagues - are now in limbo.
Whatever the detractors may say, and whether national coach Bernd Stange feels that playing in the Malaysian Super League (and the S.League) does not help the national team's cause, the LionsXII project did deliver some positives.
Alumni such as Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun were heroes of the victorious 2013 season and earned big-money moves to Johor.
The current crop of Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Khairul Nizam have also become household names, while Safuwan broke new ground with his successful A-League stint at Melbourne City.
"For the players, we have never experienced what it was like to play club football in packed stadiums week in, week out, and what home-ground advantage and away games really meant until we joined the LionsXII," said a player.
"It may not be the most technical league, but it is very physical and we learnt how to use teamwork and tactics to overcome better teams with strong imports."
However, overnight, their world has come crashing down.
Another player said: "A few weeks ago, we were starting to negotiate our LionsXII contracts, but now, we have to look for a new club.
"It is scary because it is almost December now and we don't know if the S.League clubs have filled their rosters.
"We have almost 30 players and there are only six senior local teams.
"It is definitely worrying and unsettling to know that we may not have bargaining power in negotiating a contract."
With the Football Association of Singapore still coming to grips with the situation, speculation will inevitably abound.
One possibility is that the LionsXII may not be disbanded, but will play in the S.League next year before taking part in the inaugural Asean Super League if it kicks off in 2017.
But, if that doesn't happen, it could spell the end of the careers of some of the better footballers in the country.
One said: "This has happened so suddenly, I have no back-up plans if the LionsXII are no more.
"I have thought about whether this could be it for me and it's time to hang up my boots.
"I will have no choice if I can't find a club, and it will be a bitter way to retire from football after going all the way to win the FA Cup in front of 80,000 people just six months ago."
Coach Fandi wants to carry on developing youngsters
AIM: LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad wants to go all the way to the Malaysia Cup final on Dec 12 to make it a perfect finish in the final season.
Incredibly, he had been in this predicament before as a Singapore player in 1994.
Now, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is feeling a sense of deja vu after learning that his team will be booted out of Malaysian football competitions next season.
The 53-year-old still has a year left on his contract and should remain with the Football Association of Singapore's coaching set-up, but his mind was with his players.
He told The New Paper: "Over the years, I have seen them develop and mature.
"Sure, they are not perfect, but I'm still proud of what they have accomplished against teams that have two, three, and then four foreigners.
"I just hope that their future will be sorted out soon, so they can continue playing and contributing to Singapore football."
After winning the M-League and Malaysia Cup in 1994, Singapore withdrawn from Malaysian competition after a dispute over gate receipts.
At that time, the players were also caught unawares as they were in a training camp in New Zealand in February 1995.
Fandi and Co. were kept together as the team won the semi-pro FAS Premier League at an undefeated canter that year, before being disbanded as the S.League was formed in 1996.
With Fandi at the helm, the LionsXII won this year's Malaysian FA Cup and have a 43.9 per cent win ratio and a strike rate of 1.55 goals per game, compared to 50.7 per cent and 1.48 goals per game under his predecessor V Sundramoorthy.
Whether or not the LionsXII disband, Fandi said: "I wish to continue to help develop young Singaporean footballers, whether it is with the LionsXII or the Under-23s or Under-21s.
"I believe we have good young footballers in Singapore who can be groomed to be stars of the future."
For now, Fandi is determined to finish the season on a high as he attempts to mastermind a sensational reversal of the 4-1 Malaysia Cup quarter-final, first-leg defeat by Pahang on Tuesday in Saturday's second leg at Jalan Besar.
He said: "We want to win for the fans and those who have supported us over the years.
"It is not over yet. We certainly hope this will not be the last game.
"The perfect finish for us is if the LionsXII can survive this quarter-final and go all the way to the final on Dec 12."
“Following a series of discussions over the past one year — with the most recent meeting held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month — the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) informed us earlier this evening that they would not renew the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was signed in 2011. “One of the key components of the MOU is the participation of a team in each other’s leagues. “Following the expiry of the MOU, the LionsXII and Harimau Muda will no longer participate in the Malaysian Super League and S.League respectively from 2016 onwards. “Our immediate priority is to assist the LionsXII players and backroom staff and we will be meeting them over the next few days.”
Possible scenarios for local football
1 LIONSXII IN S.LEAGUE
The LionsXII stay together as a team, and compete in the S.League until the formation of the Asean Super League, projected to kick off in 2017.
If this happens, it will follow in the footsteps of the Fandi Ahmad-led Singapore side after their departure from Malaysian football in 1994. The team played in the Premier League, the predecessor of the S.League, in 1995, and won it, going through the season undefeated.
The LionsXII will then jettison the S.League for the ASL in 2017.
This move will see the S.League proceed with 10 teams.
2 LIONSXII DISBAND
The LionsXII disband, and players join one of the currently active local S.League clubs.
Players will likely have to take a pay cut, with S.League clubs likely unable to match salaries - ranging from $6,000 for a national player in the LionsXII to more than $15,000 for first names on the teamsheet.
They will then reassemble when the ASL is formed.
This move will see the S.League play with nine teams.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad still has a year to run on his contract, and this scenario will see him reassigned, likely to the Courts Young Lions, effectively the national Under-23 side, currently coached by German Juergen Raab.
However, the FAS is also understood to be considering the disbanding of the Young Lions, a move that will see their players join six of the other local clubs.
This move will see eight teams compete in the S.League, but there will be a problem with Fandi's reassignment.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now