LionsXII – Should they stay or should they go?

Debate is raging about the future of LionsXII in Malaysian football. So FourFourTwo turned to two of our writers in Singapore and Malaysia to present their side of the argument...

LionsXII, it's time to go. By Vijhay Vick

There is plenty of debate at the moment about LionsXII's ongoing participation in the Malaysia Super League (MSL). Personally, I feel it is time Malaysia cut ties with the Singapore club.

It all started with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by both the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and Football Association of Singapore (FAS) back in 2011.

So let’s take a look at what the two bodies agreed upon – they were to send participating teams to each other’s leagues, exchange referees, hold international friendlies and organise a FAM-FAS Challenge Series.

Apart from LionsXII’s participation in the MSL and Harimau Muda playing in the S.League, nothing else has actually taken place.

The Malaysia-Singapore rivalry does bring some excitement, but since it’s based mostly upon utter hatred, does the MSL really need such a hostile atmosphere? This is anything but friendly banter.

Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee did not want to play in Singapore after just one season, despite finishing fourth in the 2012 S.League standings. The ensuing years resulted in only bottom-half finishes on the table. They are currently seventh in the 10-team competition.

Those Harimau Muda teams comprised largely of Malaysian under-23 and under-21 players and were supposed to help prepare the age-group national teams. Yet Malaysia have not recorded any success in these age groups since joining the S.League.

Malaysia’s most recent glory years in Southeast Asian football came when Harimau Muda were based in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia won the 2009 SEA Games and the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup when Harimau Muda played in the Malaysia Premier League, while the 2011 SEA Games victory came after Harimau Muda finished a lofty fifth in the MSL.

By contrast, Singapore won the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup with a squad comprising of 12 LionsXII players. The following year – just their second season – LionsXII marched to the MSL title.

Happier times: The day the MoU was signed

There were some gripes among Malaysians, but there was no denying V. Sundramoorthy’s side played a tactically disciplined game and proved near impossible to break down at its Jalan Besar Stadium home.

The following season, however, proved a near-disaster under Fandi Ahmad and brought attention to the Singaporean club’s immunity from relegation. LionsXII ultimately finished four points clear of the drop zone, but the question was asked – how could a club be immune to relegation but still eligible to lift the trophy?

On a commercial scale, LionsXII’s inclusion has arguably brought benefits to Malaysian football. While the S.League has slumped in popularity, the MSL is regularly splashed across the local media. It increases the profile of the MSL and that equates to more revenue.

But in Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), the MSL already has a team that can put Malaysian football in the spotlight, both at home and abroad. Boasting consecutive MSL titles, the Southern Tigers have now reached their first AFC Cup final and currently top their group in the Malaysia Cup.

The MoU back in 2011 clearly benefited Singapore football, while Malaysia were left licking their wounds on the international stage.

Considering the fact they are arch-rivals, the FAM shouldn’t continue providing a platform for their Singaporean counterparts.

With minimal benefits to Malaysia, it’s time for the LionsXII to be thrown to the wolves.