Five changes in 2015 – What's different in the S.League?

The S.League enters its 20th season this weekend, and if there's one thing we've learnt over the years, it's that change is the only constant.

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Puzzled? Confused? Not sure what to expect?

Don't worry, your friendly neighbourhood is here to take you through what's different this season.

Only 10 remain

There are only 10 clubs in the league this season, down from 12 last year. Tanjong Pagar United will be sitting out this year, while Woodlands Wellington and Hougang United have merged to become... Hougang United.

That leaves with eight teams based in Singapore, of which seven are local. DPMM play their home games in Brunei, while Harimau Muda will be based at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca.

The last time the league had just 10 teams was in 2004 & 2005. It increased to 11 the next year, and with Indonesia’s Sriwijaya FC already expressing their interest to play in the S.League, who knows, the number of teams may just increase again next year!

2.5 + 0.5 = 3!

With an even 10 teams participating in 2015, the league has decided to do away with the derided 2.5 round format, and instead return to a less headache-inducing three-round format that served the league so well for most of the last decade.

Last year's 2.5 round only served to confuse casual fans, with seventh-placed Hougang United finishing with more points than sixth-placed Balestier Khalsa.

The return of the three-round format also means that every club will have an equal amount of matches played at home away, and at the neutral Jalan Besar Stadium (live matches). Except Courts Young Lions, of course!

Marquee players no more

Also introduced for the 2013 S.League season along with the 2.5 rounds format was the ‘Star Player’ scheme, in which marquee players were supposed to inject quality into the league.

The player’s wages would not be counted towards the club’s monthly salary cap, and up to 30% would be subsidised by the league.

Yet two years after the scheme was introduced, results haven’t been ideal. While Lee Kwan Woo, Goran Ljubojevic and Monsef Zerka proved value for money, Kazuyuki Toda, Miljan Mrdakovic, and Martin Wagner appeared as though they were in the Lion City for an fully paid extended holiday.

Warriors head coach Alex Weaver summed it up best at the start of 2014.

"I'm not exactly a big fan of the status," he said. "You have to ask yourself why these (big-name) players would come. I just wonder if they are desperate to win an S.League title or if they're just happy to enjoy the fantastic lifestyle Singapore has to offer. I'm not trying to be negative on the scheme. It's just that I'd prefer younger, hungrier players than having an older, marquee one."

Age limits are gone

This isn't really a change from the 2014 season, but rather a rapid U-turn that happened during the off-season.

After the season ended last year, it was announced that each clubs would only be allowed five players who were above the age of 30 in 2015. The decision caused an instant uproar among both players and fans, with some claiming that the S.League were violating Ministry of Manpower rules.

The decision was then quickly reversed, and 2015 will see seasoned veterans Indra Sahdan, Noh Alam Shah (Tampines Rovers), Shahril Jantan, Imran Sahib (Home United), Anaz Hadee and Hafiz Osman (Geylang International) still plying their trade in the S.League, just to name a few.

Is this home, truly?

Four clubs will be changing their home stadiums in 2015.

Tampines Rovers, who were based at Clementi Stadium, will move to the vacant Jurong West Stadium, which is on the opposite side of Singapore while they wait for the Tampines Stadium to be rebuilt.

Harimau Muda will relocate from Johor to Malacca, shifting even further up north, while both Warriors and Home United have been forced to shift to Woodlands Stadium and Bishan Stadium respectively due to SEA Games preparation works at their original stadiums. 

To make matters worse, both uniformed clubs will move back to the Choa Chu Kang Stadium and Bishan Stadium in July once the SEA Games is over.

Confusing, huh?

Photo: Football Association of Singapore