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S.League risking mass exodus of talent with its radical youth plan

An emphasis on youth is a valid initiative, but it may force experienced professionals to leave Singapore and weaken squads, argues Neil Humphreys…

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Singapore’s penchant for pulling out the sledgehammer to swat the persistent fly seems to have come to the fore once more

In time, Daniel Bennett may become an innocent victim of a revised system. He risks being punished for being too dependable for his age, too reliable for his own good.

The Lions centre-back will be 40 next month, but remains one of the S.League’s most accomplished defenders. That is hardly his fault.

But his generation of veterans are about to be penalised for the failings of their profession. 

From next season, the six local S.League clubs (Balestier Khalsa, Geylang International, Home United, Hougang United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC) must include at least six under-23 players in their squads.

A minimum of three should start every S.League game.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is also considering plans to restrict the number of players over the age of 30 and cut the import quota from three to two.

Bennett is still performing at a high level

Youth football continues to stagnate – poor performances at the SEA Games and various age-group tournaments are proof of that – and there’s no doubt that something radical is required to give the faltering production line a jolt.

But Singapore’s penchant for pulling out the sledgehammer to swat the persistent fly seems to have come to the fore once more.

The understandable emphasis on youth risks alienating experienced pros with plenty still to offer

The understandable emphasis on youth risks alienating experienced pros with plenty still to offer. If they have boots, they’ll travel elsewhere.

With the league’s funding uncertain, popular Singaporeans Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang) and Hariss Harun (Johor Darul Ta'zim) are staying away.  

The Fandi brothers want away and national goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud has reportedly taken a substantial pay cut out to secure his move to Nongbua Pitchaya in Thailand.

The proposed age quotas wouldn’t affect these particular footballers – at least in the short-term – but the S.League’s financial issues presumably influenced their decisions.

The age quota will only accelerate a potential exodus.

Izwan and Hassan are both heading overseas

It’s certainly not going to take much to tempt the old guard at Tampines Rovers. Alongside Bennett, Fahrudin Mustafic, Khairul Amri and Fazrul Nawaz are all on the wrong side of 30, but should survive the inevitable cull. Others will not be so lucky.

The Stags had nine players in the 30-plus club last season. So did Warriors FC, which may cause all sorts of logistical issues as the S.League seeks to prove that Singapore is no country for old men.

Taken at face value, the FAS reasoning is hard to fault. In a struggling S.League, seasoned campaigners will happily squeeze out one more season, profiting from the competition’s mediocrity.

But should dependable warhorses be sacrificed because the foals are falling short of the required standard?

[NEXT: Dividing the talent between Fandi and the rest]