Local S.League clubs adopt conservative approach
Likes of Baihakki and Shahril available, but S.League subsidy quantum still unknown
They have 260 international caps between them, and were part of three AFF Suzuki Cup-winning teams with the Lions.
But both Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril Ishak have yet to find a club to play for next year.
Their contracts with Johor Darul Ta'zim II ended with the 2016 season, and while there has been some interest in the veteran duo from S.League clubs, two key factors have seen no firm offers made - and both are about money.
There is a fear that the pair, both 32 - they were in Singapore's 23-man squad at this year's Suzuki Cup - will seek high wages, and with the quantum of subsidies for S.League clubs still yet to be confirmed, some are taking the conservative approach.
The fact that the foreign-player quota has also not been confirmed by the S.League administration is an additional obstacle for clubs, who cannot plan their squads for the new season.
"We're still not sure about the foreign-player quota for next season. Truth be told, I've raised this issue at the general managers' meeting two months ago, but I was told that the budget (for the 2017 season) has yet to be confirmed - so everybody's waiting for that first," said Hougang United general manager Matthew Tay.
"But we can't wait for them to confirm everything, because if we do, it will leave us in a situation where we will have to make hasty decisions and we don't want that."
Clubs receive some $800,000 in annual subsidies in cash, as well as for meeting predetermined key performance indicators.
Ahead of 2016 season, clubs were allowed to sign three foreign players, but sources reveal that an additional spot could open up for foreign players from Asian countries for the new campaign.
Hougang already started offering contract extensions to players in July.
While it is an uncommon move in an S.League that often leaves contract discussions till late, the Cheetahs run a profitable jackpot operation - it turned in a $2 million profit in 2014 - which made them the only team that can operate without subsidies.
Warriors FC have taken a similar approach to Hougang by already signing 10 local players, but they remain conservative.
"We don't believe that there will be big changes to the budget, but we will wait for the announcement from the S.League before deciding on foreign players," said general manager Paul Poh.
While there may be a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the league, former Singapore international John Wilkinson believes rays of sunshine will pierce the gloom soon.
"Players and coaches are a little bit in limbo, and I can empathise, having been in their shoes before, and I'm sure clubs are doing what they can," he said.
"But I'm bullish about the S.League."
The former Warriors midfielder revealed that he has been "inundated" with calls from foreign players, from the French second division to Japan's top flight, who want to come and play in the S.League.
"I asked them why - because the money is certainly not life-changing here - and the answer I get is stability… and that Singapore is a great place to live," said Wilkinson.
Compared to others around the region, he agreed that the S.League is stable.
He added: "If you have good quality foreigners wanting to come here, I have no doubt that the league will be good to watch, and it'll be fun.
"The league could use a little pat on the back for some of the things it has been getting right.
"Now, let's let the clubs know what 2017 will look like - and let's get the league going."
"We are taking a conservative approach, but we can do this because the club do not need the subsidies to function."
— Hougang United general manager Matthew Tay on the move to extend players’ contracts early