Opening the door to foreign kids won’t fix the Lions or the S.League

As part of a revamped S.League, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is reportedly considering allowing clubs to have two under-21 foreigners, in the hope of converting them into citizens. But the idea smacks of another quick-fix that won’t produce another Duric or Bennett, argues Neil Humphreys...

Everyone remembers where they were the day that swimmer Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first Olympic Games gold medal.

He was one of our own, hand on heart, singing Majulah Singapura and sharing our tears. He gave Singaporeans their greatest moment in sports history.

Li was an outstanding paddler, but she was fast-tracked to citizenship

Now, who remembers where they were when Li Jiawei won a couple of Olympic team medals in the table tennis?

Li was an outstanding paddler, but she was fast-tracked to citizenship. She was born in China, largely made in China, finessed in Singapore and returned to China soon after retirement.

Schooling inspires others. He laid down a potential pathway for Singaporeans to follow. Li inspired a confusing mix of pride and resentment.

Her success was bought in Singapore. Schooling’s success was made in Singapore.

The S.League may alter the foreign player quota next season

It’s a subtle distinction that the FAS may choose to ignore at its peril.

Recent reports suggest that the S.League may alter the foreign player quota next season, in part to deal with the expected financial shortfall. So far so sensible.

The chances of a couple of budding youngsters turning into the next Daniel Bennett or Aleksandar Duric are slim

But the proposed reduction from four to three foreigners, with the caveat that two must be under the age of 21 - in the vague hope that they could fulfil FIFA's five-year residency rule and become fully-fledged Lions - is fanciful at best.

Currently, S.League clubs are permitted to sign three foreigners and an additional under-21 player.

More realistically, the idea is untenable, an unfortunate consequence of a myopic culture that still favours a pacifying quick-fix over a patient, broader view.

The chances of a couple of budding youngsters turning into the next Daniel Bennett or Aleksandar Duric are slim, largely because the five-year residency rule wasn’t their route to citizenship.

Bennett’s father was a headmaster at an international school here. As a result, the centre-back has mostly lived in Singapore since he was a child.

Singapore has to focus on developing local talent. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

Duric, meanwhile, pursued his citizenship independently, away from the official - and still polarising - Foreign Talent Scheme (FTS). 

They wanted to be Singaporeans. They were not career-minded opportunists. 

Bennett and Mustafic continue to wage war against Old Father Time in the S.League

Quite rightly, the halcyon days of Raddy Avramovic’s reign are championed as the high watermark of local and foreign assimilation, when Lions both born and adopted came together to win three AFF Championships.

Duric, Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin – who was born in Serbia – all featured prominently in the 2012 triumph against Thailand.

Qiu Li came on as a late replacement in the second leg, while fellow Chinese-born footballer Shi Jiayi was ineligible for the final.

All of them were in their early to mid-thirties, except for Shi and he was 29.

Bennett was a mainstay at the 2012 Suzuki Cup. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

Bennett and Mustafic continue to wage war against Father Time in the S.League and Duric remains Singapore’s curious case of Benjamin Button, seemingly refusing to age.

But none of them could ever be confused for kids.

When it comes to the Foreign Talent Scheme, Alan Hansen’s immortal words ring true – You win nothing with kids.

[NEXT: Giving local talent a chance]