Time to play fringe players, Fandi
Development was the key word highlighting the formation of Singapore’s representative in the Malaysian Super League (MSL), the LionsXII, as part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).
Three years down the road, no one can deny that Singapore's latest foray into Malaysia's premier league competition has been a successful venture. Having a Singapore development team playing in front of hostile crowds on a consistent basis has reaped benefits.
In 2012, Singapore won the AFF Suzuki Cup with members from the LionsXII team forming the backbone in the national setup. Last year, the LionsXII won the MSL under the tutelage of former coach V Sundramoorthy, improving on the second placing they achieved the previous campaign.
This season however, under Fandi Ahmad, things have not gone on smoothly. Injuries, suspension, as well as National Service (NS) commitments have hit the team hard, along with the loss of star players Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun and former captain Shahril Ishak, although Baihakki has since rejoined the Lions.
The loss of the trio have not only disrupted the delicate balance in the team, but their influence in the dressing room seems to be sorely missed as the team has failed to produce the results. Moneybags Johor Darul Takzim’s 3-2 victory at Jalan Besar Stadium has seen the defending champions slump to their third league defeat on the trot, making it seven losses in total this season.
With the league title already out of reach and nothing to play for currently, it is definitely time for the fringe players to be given a chance to prove their mettle on the pitch. After all, wasn't player development seen as one of the key targets when the LionsXII team was first formed?
The likes of Syafiq Zainal, Emmeric Ong, Ignatius Ang and Samuel Benjamin have not taken to the pitch, while Aqhari Abdullah has used sparingly. With a number of players already succumbing to injuries and suspensions creeping in as well, it looks like the perfect opportunity for Fandi to give the aforementioned back up options a decent chance to prove their worth.
It is no secret that the trophy that fans really want is the Malaysia Cup, rather than the league title. This can be a chance for regular first-team players to have a good rest and heal up before the the Malaysia Cup campaign begins.
While Samuel Benjamin has been tied up with NS, the rest have been overlooked constantly, in particular Ignatius Ang and Emmeric Ong. While both Chinese players are still raw, they have proven that they are perhaps worth a punt at this level with some good performances in the S.League last year.
It is impossible for players to gain match experience without actually getting some playing time. These young players’ careers are at risk of not taking off, which might lead to them turning their backs on the game when there is already a dearth of footballing talent in Singapore. One name that comes to mind immediately is Taufiq Rahmat who played sporadically for LionsXII in 2012, turned out for Woodlands last year and has now retired aged 26.
It might not bear fruit immediately and results might not improve but blooding more young players might do more good than harm in the long term for the team. Who knows, these youngsters might even grab the opportunities given to them and stake a claim in time for the Malaysia Cup, giving Fandi a welcome headache as LionsXII bid to win the trophy for the first time.