Time for Singapore's football to rise from the ashes

In a new feature, Singapore’s adopted footballing son Aleksandar Duric will be penning his thoughts on the local football scene. In his first column, the former Tampines marksman believes that the S.League has its best opportunity in years to shine. 

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If the 'Fountain of Youth' truly exists, then pass me a sip, just so that I can roll back the years and be the player that I was at my peak.

For if I could play again and make a contribution on the pitch to Singapore’s football, I would because I have not seen the S.League having a better opportunity to boost its standings amongst the public in recent years.

For a long time, I played in the S.League and watched it flounder. The hardest years came when the LionsXII project commenced, as most of the best players in our nation gathered and plied their trade on our neighbour’s shores instead.

Our domestic league’s attendance figures were dismal to say the least, but our LionsXII were heralded and enjoyed playing in a packed Jalan Besar Stadium frequently.

But things have changed since the start of 2016.

Trust me when I say stepping onto the pitch now feels different, because it does. The fans are returning and games feel more vibrant and exciting than they have done in recent years.

Obviously, the acquisition of Jermaine Pennant by Tampines Rovers has helped the league gain more interest from the public, as did the return of most LionsXII players.

With nearly every local club signing on national-team calibre LionsXII players, the league suddenly looks more competitive than ever.

Geylang International, who had struggled in the league of late, highlighted this competitiveness by holding the widely-favoured Tampines to a 3-3 draw in their season opener.

It has all looked so good so far in the 2016 season, but the real work begins now. How can we retain interest and continue to grow the S.League brand? Can we raise the standard of football, so that the national team might enjoy a bigger pool of quality players?

Marketing the S.League is of essence now and it should not be confined within the commercial aspect.

On the pitch, our local clubs should do their best too to promote the S.League brand, as our neighbours Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have done.

Recently, I visited Australia and was surprised to hear of people talking about the Malaysian champions. Their exploits in the AFC Cup were stunning to say the least and it has got people interested in them.

For far too long, Singapore clubs have not made any progress in the regional tournaments – and having our best players play in Malaysia did not help this cause.

But that can all change now, especially if Tampines live up their potential.

Duric is a fan of Balestier coach Kraljevic

This is the first time in years that I have seen a squad stockpiled with Singapore internationals, as well as quality foreigners.

And let’s not forget Balestier Khalsa, who are a tenacious bunch under coach Marko Kraljevic. They can surprise people and it would do well not to underestimate them.

These clubs cannot neglect our domestic league, but they should also try to put this little red dot on the Asia map with a good showing in the AFC Cup.

With determination, hard work and a little luck, who is to say either club can’t go on a good run to win the trophy?

Some have argued that this may prove difficult, as local clubs have lesser foreign players to depend on. Currently, S.League clubs can only register three foreign players in the league, instead of five as per last season, and this could affect their quality of play.

But then again, here is an opportunity for our local boys to step up and fill in the gaps. Now is the time for them to prove they can perform up to the standard required. Should our boys rise to the occasion, then national coach Bernd Stange should have a selection dilemma on his hands.

This can be Singapore football's year and the beginning of a great era, but we need to make it count, starting from now.

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo