When a Lion quits in his prime, S.League must take notice

Al-Qaasimy Rahman’s decision to retire, at just 26, in search of financial stability sends all the wrong signals about the state of the local league, argues Neil Humphreys... 

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A year ago, an S.League footballer spoke of of his ambition to return to the Lions’ first XI. 

Today, he is out of the game. 

Al-Qaasimy Rahman has left the profession. He’s turned his back on every schoolboy’s dream. He’s still only 26.

In the end, he said in a FourFourTwo interview, “everything boils down to job security”.

In Singapore football, it always does. Money is at the root of all restlessness. Childhood fantasties must give way to hard-headed pragmatism. The rice bowl always wins.

But in Al-Qaasimy’s case, football loses. The S.League has suffered another embarrassing defeat. 

Al-Qaasimy had previously featured for the national team

The ailing tournament already struggles to convince budding footballers to consider a career in the professional game. Now it can’t even convince existing professionals to stay in the game. 

It can no longer preach to the choir.  Disillusioned pros like Al-Qaasimy are not listening. As the ex-Geylang International right-back closed in on his athletic prime, he called it a day. He’s now considering a job with the civil service.

In Singapore, professional footballers become civil servants

In most countries, civil servants sit in rows of office cubicles and fantasise about what it must be like to be a professional footballer. In Singapore, professional footballers become civil servants.

Once again, we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

So awkward questions must be asked. Why has Al-Qaasimy walked away from the sport he loves? Why has he changed careers? And similarly, why are his colleagues heading overseas to save their careers?

Just last season, Al-Qaasimy featured in the same side as Lions winger Gabriel Quak - an exciting talent who has been one of the more prominent Chinese players in recent times.

Quak also featured at Geylang last season

Now Quak has signed a one-season deal with Thai Navy in Thailand’s League 1.  

Quak is one of the first Singaporean-Chinese outfield national players to earn a professional overseas contract. He inked the deal soon after Al-Qaasimy arguably became the first Singapore international to quit the sport at just 26.

It's a strange handicapping system that penalises over-aged players for the numbers on a passport, rather than a pitch

These unexpected ‘firsts’ are not coincidences, but perhaps an inevitable consequence of administrative changes.  

At least ten current and former Lions are now playing overseas, after the Football Association of Singapore introduced various age restrictions.

Next season, local clubs must start at least three Under-23 players in every match. Youth is the new black. The kids are all right, even when they aren’t. It's a strange handicapping system that penalises over-aged players for the numbers on a passport, rather than a pitch.

Being 26, Al-Qaasimy did his sums and didn’t like the equation. The older he got, the tougher it would get to sustain an S.League career.

Al-Qaasimy is looking to a career in civil service. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

The promising right-back made his Young Lions debut at the age of 18, captained the under-23 side and collected eight senior caps. Last March, he scored his first S.League goal for Geylang International in a 2-0 win against Balestier Khalsa.

He spoke eagerly of impressing Lions coach V.Sundramoorthy, whom he worked with in the Under-21s.

Now his career is over.