Asian Football

Harimau Muda B 2.0? Not Quite – Part 2: Necessary Conditions For Singapore to Benefit

There are both pros and cons to the addition of JDT III to the SPL with any decision. Although, as I mentioned in the previous article, the pros outweigh the cons if certain conditions are established. If these conditions are met, then JDT III or other foreign teams would help the Singapore footballing landscape.

The Conditions

1. The Establishment of at least 10 Local (& Sustainable) Teams

Before the inclusion of other foreign teams, we first need to eliminate the Under-23 rule for local teams. The rule has yielded more disadvantages than it has advantages. I pray that this is the last season we see the rule in action. Secondly, we need to progressively establish more local sides.

Right now, barring Young Lions, there are only six professional local sides. In other words, six teams eligible for AFC continental competitions. That number is far too small for us to have any substantial national team pool and it significantly limits players’ job security. Upon the expiry of their contracts, players can only move to 5 other teams. With limited spaces, positions get filled up fast. Many players in their prime or who had decent potential are forced to hang up their boots. The under-23 rule is primarily to blame for exacerbating this issue, but make no mistake, the lack of local sides is the root cause of the problem. I somewhat made this stand in an article earlier in the year but having players like Ignatius Ang, R Aaravin, Yeo Hao Ngee, and Zulfadhmi Suzliman benefits the league. Thrusting inexperienced under-23 players for the sake of things makes little sense, and we need the return of the Prime League.

Instead of incorporating all five clubs from the get-go, we need to slowly integrate one at a time over the next five years. Why? Unless they launch as newly formed privatised entities, clubs need some initial financial support from the FAS to start with a strong foundation. Over the years, we have witnessed many Singaporean sides fall victim to financial woes and have indefinitely “sat out” of the league – the latest victim being my beloved Warriors FC. Thus, the inclusion of new teams makes little sense until we ensure that we have at least 10 sustainable local clubs.

Sources Of Funding

Privatisation of clubs is the most ideal way for serious financial muscle. However, finding the right investor partner may be a slow process and clubs need to find more funding opportunities in the interim that can help expedite the process. I’m really tearing a page from The Mouth Of The North’s playbook here, but reaching out to local businesses and getting them on board to sponsor billboards would help.

Fan merch is something that clubs need to invest more in. Sailors do a fair bit of fan merchandising, but other clubs need to commit to such ventures. Clubs can gain a decent revenue stream and gain new fans by having aesthetically pleasing and affordable jerseys.

Besides monetary funding, product sponsorship should not be underestimated. This is also a crucial way for clubs to gain both credibility and essential products. Our partners, Rookbook Sports, have recently helped Tampines Rovers secure a deal with MyProtein and are looking to help other teams with such product sponsorship initiatives. Possibly approaching marketing and management firms like Rookbook Sports to find such sponsorship opportunities should be the way forward – which brings up another pertinent point.

Our SPL clubs need to significantly improve their marketing efforts. Fans need constant content professionally delivered to them. Marketing fan merch helps promote club products to the masses, and it’ll be easier to convince sponsors if clubs’ marketing has a broad reach. If having an in-house professional marketing team is too expensive, outsourcing this makes more sense, and entities like the aforementioned Rookbook Sports help with this pain point.

2. Foreign Teams Implementing the Albirex Niigata Model

For those unfamiliar to the Singapore Premier League rules throughout the past few years, Brunei DPMM and Albirex Niigata have different sets of rules. While DPMM essentially operates like any other Singapore Premier League team (barring the ridiculous under-23 rule), it isn’t the same case for the White Swans.

For those unfamiliar with the SPL regulations for the Albirex Niigata satellite team based in Singapore, the club may only sign Japanese and Singaporean players. The club can sign up an unlimited number of Singaporean footballers but are only allowed 2 local players above the age of 23 years. The club also needs to have a minimum of 18 players and a maximum of 25 players registered.

To better illustrate this, here is a table.

Squad Size23 Players24 Players25 Players
Japanese U-21 (born on or after 1 Jan 2000)Minimum 8Minimum 8Minimum 9
Japanese U-23 (born on or after 1 Jan 1998)Minimum 8Minimum 8Minimum 8
Open Japanese [No Age Limit]Maximum 1Maximum 1Maximum 1
Singaporean U-23 (born on or after 1 Jan 1998)Minimum 4Minimum 5Minimum 5
Open SingaporeanMaximum 2Maximum 2Maximum 2

Source: 2021 SPL Handbook

For the JDT III move to the SPL to be a win-win for all parties, the club needs to have a minimum number of Under-21 Singaporean players to choose from. If anything, to ensure fairness, it should follow elements of the Albirex model.

This is not necessarily bad for the Southern Tigers, since they could potentially earmark and groom promising Singaporean footballers for the ASEAN [JDT] and AFC Quotas [JDT II]. You might think it’s wishful thinking, but since its current form as JDT in 2013, the club has had a Singaporean presence in the establishment in some capacity (until Harris’s departure last month).

Fandi Ahmad was the head coach in the 2013 season – their first season as the newly transformed JDT. At the end of that season, Baihaikki Khaizan and Harris Harun would sign for the Malaysia Super League team, while Sharil Ishak would sign for JDT II in the Malaysia Premier League, the second tier of the Malaysian football league system. Singapore and Johor share close ties and Harris’s long tenure with JDT is a reflection of that.

The Singapore footballing system can also benefit from the inclusion of under-23 players in foreign teams. Just take a look at Ong Yu En, who has benefitted immensely from regular playing time with Albirex this season. In previous campaigns, players like Iman Hakim and Gareth Low have progressed as well. The Southern Tigers have a professional setup, and having some of our brightest prospects train with the JDT boys would definitely boost their development.

3. Foreign Teams Establishing COEs and grassroots initiatives for the Singaporean community

If the FAS plans to invite foreign teams to the league, these teams need to play a part in Goal 2034 and help improve the state of Singapore football by engineering grassroots initiatives.

For instance, JDT III would probably play their fixtures in Johor, but should still establish a JDT academy in Singapore and organise grassroots initiatives. For example, holding a bilateral amateur football tournament where teams from Johor and Singapore battle it out.

If anything, grassroots initiatives help foreign teams market their brand in Singapore better and help establish a sense of connection with the Singaporean community at large – One issue that many foreign teams faced in the past.

 A Multinational League?

I mentioned this in my title and if you’re confused by it, allow me to clarify what I mean because this is important.

In an ideal scenario, having 11 local sides, the Young Lions (if you’re anti-Young Lions, you can scrap it for another local side), and four elite foreign teams would make up 16 clubs in the league. What’s more, there would be Singaporean players in every club, including foreign sides.

Can all of these conditions be fulfilled before next season? Of course not. These idealistic conditions would take years before being fully implemented.

However, we should start with something – the scrapping of the under-23 rule for local sides is a good beginning and, if possible, the return of Warriors FC (fingers crossed). Singapore football needs its most successful professional football team to rise from the ashes and return to the fold.

Singapore football could potentially thrive under this set up, but as I’ve stated this in a previous article, for any initiative to work effectively, a multi-pronged approach is necessary.

We need all stakeholders to work in tandem.

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