Interviews

Steve Kean, One-on-one: The reduction of foreign players in the S.League is "hard to understand"

Having coached in the S.League with Brunei DPMM over the past four years, former Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean had an exclusive chat with FourFourTwo's Deepanraj Ganesan about his tenure, shares his honest feedback about the newly-revamped league and speaks of a Singaporean who he believes is good enough to play in Europe...

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Kean recalled a "distinct drop in quality (of the league)" when the foreign player quota was reduced from five to three at the start of the 2016 S.League season

From the dizzy heights of lifting the S.League title with Brunei DPMM in 2015 to the unfamiliar depths of a second-to-bottom finish two seasons later, Steve Kean has been through the ups and downs of management in Singapore's domestic league.

The former English Premier League manager has also witnessed a gamut of changes to the scene and speaking to FourFourTwo from London where he is currently on holiday after parting ways with DPMM, Kean recalled a "distinct drop in quality (of the league)" when the foreign player quota was reduced from five to three ahead of the 2016 season.

Evidently, the news had not broken to Kean that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) were reported to be introducing a further reduction in the number of foreigners - down to two for 2018. This decision was confirmed earlier this week, after FFT's conversation with Kean.

“No way. You can’t be serious," said Kean. "That is just shocking. I would like to know the logic behind that because I don’t understand it at all. What went behind the decision and how was that approved?

“Each Singaporean team is going to be less competitive and the advantage is only going to Albirex because let’s face it, every player they have is a foreigner. Japanese football is very strong so essentially, they are fielding 11 foreigners against the two that local teams can field.

“I find this change hard to understand really.”

In the final year, I didn’t have any connection with the import players because they weren’t brought in by me. I didn’t know them

- Steve Kean

The standard of imports in his DPMM side was a factor that led to their poor showing this season, Kean went on to explain.

"The quality of foreigners is always very important to a side and that cannot be understated and unfortunately for us, we did not have much quality in that aspect last season,” he noted.

For the 2017 campaign, DPMM initially signed Frenchman François Marque, former Tampines Rovers front-man Billy Mehmet and retained Brazilian hotshot Rafael Ramazotti from the previous season.

By the end of the campaign, Marque and Mehmet would have been released. Marque made way for Serbian Zeljko Savic, has since left the club.

Only Ramazotti, who managed to net 14 goals, accquited himself well. The Chilean duo of Vincent Salas and Daud Gazale ended the season as DPMM's other two foreigners.

“First off, I have to say that working with the Sultan of Brunei was a fantastic experience and frankly, my job at DPMM was mostly about development of the players they had,” Kean added.

“But when we speak about the struggles of the past season, I think there certainly was a difference with our approach.

“For example, every season that I was in charge, I worked closely with the Crown Prince and he ensured that the ones who came to the club, the foreigners, were players that I wanted and I knew. That was important for me because I had to trust and know the players coming into the team.

"In the final year, I didn’t have any connection with the import players because they weren’t brought in by me. I didn’t know them.”