S.League clubs ready for the challenges ahead
It's time to get down to work and pull together in the same direction for the good of local football, said club officials The Straits Times spoke to a day after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) rolled out revamp plans for the 2018 season.
The FAS announced at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Monday that it will drive down the average age of players with Under-23 quotas, among a slew of changes to rejuvenate the Republic's sole professional football league.
Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong said he appreciated the FAS' top brass being open to feedback from club chairmen.
"The FAS has done a good job in tough circumstances," said Ong. "To their credit, they took into account the feedback from the clubs and we are appreciative of FAS' willingness to listen and help the clubs affected.
"One example was the initial plan to restrict the age of one of the two foreign imports (which was later rescinded)."
The guidelines drawn up to inject youth into the S.League have drawn plenty of attention.
For example, the move to cap each of the six senior local clubs to a maximum of eight players aged 31 and over, including imports, was seen by some as age discrimination. This is despite the fact that there are 48 slots in total to accommodate the 28 players who fall into that age category next term.
In response to ST's queries, a Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) spokesman said it had been in talks with national sports agency Sport Singapore before the announcement to ensure its fair employment guidelines were adhered to.
"We note the changes were mainly about requiring the minimum number of players under the age of 23 years to rejuvenate the S.League, and not about imposing age restrictions on the players," said the spokesman.
On top of the cap on older players, clubs must have six to nine U-23 players in their squads, and must start matches with at least three on the pitch.
Warriors FC general manager Paul Poh, whose club last term had nine players aged 30 and above, said the new rules were "fair".
"We were quite sceptical whether the focus on youth will work, but it is a fair platform for all clubs... and that will help bring some excitement to the league," he said.
Albirex Niigata, the S.League champions in 2016 and 2017, will field an almost entirely U-23 side, with 38-year-old goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa the only "overaged" player.
Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee said: "We are confident we will be competitive. Otherwise, we would not agree (to the changes)."
Additional reporting by Wang Meng Meng and Shamir Osman