Garena Young Lions – The view from the fans

Committed Young Lions supporter Ho Zhao Xian has the belief that the development side will not be the whipping boys this season and can instead serve up some surprises.

The Young Lions’ 2016 squad will sport a different outlook from previous seasons, with the majority of the players now under the age of 21 – rather than the previous under-23 focus – and playing in a professional league for the first time in their careers.

As such, many local football observers are sceptical of their ability to survive in the S.League, especially in a year where many teams have bolstered their ranks with former LionsXII players.

However 18-year-old Ho Zhao Xian, who has been supporting the Young Lions since 2011, is optimistic that this crop of young talent can shine on the big stage.

“I watched them play against the Geylang (International) Prime League team and they did well to win 8-1,” Zhao Xian told FourFourTwo. “I also watched the other game which they played against Albirex Niigata (S) where they lost 1-0.

“They played a decent level of football in those matches and it’s good to see the younger players trying things out instead of being intimidated.

“The league is obviously going to be tougher this year, so it won’t be easy for them. But I think they should be able to survive this season, or might even spring some surprises. My hope is to see them finish somewhere around mid-table.”

Zhao Xian’s optimism stems from the return of Khairul Amri to the set-up.

The nation’s current top hitman, who scored 54 goals in 114 appearances for the club back between 2004 and 2008, is back to guide and mentor the next generation of Singapore footballers.

The league is obviously going to be tougher this year. But I think they should be able to survive this season.

“I think he’s a great addition to this team,” said the first-year Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) student. “Amri has shown his quality over the year and has always been a regular for the national team.

“I think the youngsters look up to him both as a player and a person. In my opinion, a professional football career is not just about kicking a ball; it’s also about nurturing your character.

“Hopefully Amri can guide these youngsters to the right path for both football and in life.”

While there have been many critics of the Young Lions project over the years, Zhao Xian believes there is still value of having a development team playing in the S.League.

“I think that having an under-21 squad for the Young Lions team this year can help aid development for our youths,” he said.

“Maybe some people might say they’re too young, but I’m sure they will gain the experience as the season goes along.

“Also slowly these players will get to know each other better on and off the field; that can only help when they go on to represent the national team.

“I hope these players do not take this opportunity for granted, but instead work doubly hard to show why they’re here.” 

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