THE S-LEAGUE — FAS’ RED-HEADED STEPCHILD?

The FAS must now focus on building up the S-League. Photo: S-LEAGUE

THE CROSSROADS looks familiar doesn’t it? The signposts seem to stir the memory, and of course they do, we have been here before.

Singapore was booted out of Malaysian football competitions once in 1982, returned three years later, then in 1994 it was Singapore that decided to leave, to set up a professional league of its own.

But here we are again.

After four years of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that saw newly formed Singapore side, LionsXII, enter Malaysian domestic football, and the Harimau Muda go south to join the S.League, Singapore is out.

Again.

The exit has been called an opportunity to turn attention back to the S.League, even a blessing in disguise, but those descriptions do not convey the reality of the matter.

It is a warning.

The Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) decision to make a unilateral announcement of its decision not to extend the MOU without first informing its Singapore counterparts is unbecoming of a partner, downright unprofessional, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

And it adds to the bitter reality confronting Singapore football now.

Despite wrapping the LionsXII affair in pretty packaging, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has now got to admit that the project has not helped the S.League.

It has in fact hurt the domestic game by taking away its best players, discouraged clubs from doing more to develop young footballers, and turned fans away from an S.League that is already struggling with dwindling attendances.

In 1994 when Singapore left Malaysian football, it had a flourishing semi-professional scene, a strong will to set up a professional league, backed by fat wallets and a fire in the belly of everyone associated with the sport.

There is none of that now.

The ASEAN Super League (ASL) is projected to kick off in 2017, and Singapore cannot afford to be bamboozled by pretty ribbons and bells and whistles – not again.

The ASL may yet prove to be the game-changer for local football that the LionsXII entry into Malaysian football was sold as.

But even if it is, Singapore cannot treat its own league like a red-headed stepchild, it cannot afford to.

Clubs are the best way to create a big talent pool, where young aspirants schooled in the art of the game. A strong league will give these youngsters something to aspire to, and being in close proximity to senior players, wearing the same colours will provide daily inspiration.

This will ensure a steady pipeline of talent for the national team, it already has for nations around the globe.

Of course, the quality of execution will determine the success of this pipeline, but it is a system that can work, and can work consistently.

It is to this that the FAS must turn its attention to.

They have failed to heed the lessons of the past when it re-entered Malaysian football in 2012, and it will find itself at a similar crossroads again very soon when the ASL takes shape in 2017.

It could well feature the best players in the region, it may yet be backed by big sponsor dollars, and see top level foreign signings, and if so, Singapore should embrace it.

But Singapore cannot afford to neglect its own league, the LionsXII affair was a clear warning, a big neon sign atop the signposts.

The FAS must start – now – to give the S.League the attention it deserves, and that cannot change whatever crossroads it finds itself at in the future.