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Shamir Osman
Thursday, Nov 6, 2014

Sports

Football: Smaller 10-team S League next season

The New Paper | Shamir Osman | Thursday, Nov 6, 2014

Woodlands Wellington (pic) will be merging with Hougang United, coached by Amin Nasir next year.

Next year will mark the 20th edition of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, and it will be ushered in with yet another slew of changes, the most obvious of which will be reflected in the number of teams.

Tanjong Pagar United, one of the eight founding clubs of the S.League in 1996 - under the banner of Tiong Bahru United - will not be in the mix next season, along with another pioneer outfit, Woodlands Wellington.

From 12 teams this year, the 2015 S.League will see a reduced roster of 10 sides.

Woodlands will merge with Hougang United to form a club whose shape and form have yet to be decided, while financial struggles will see Queenstown-based Tanjong Pagar sit out the league for the second time, after they pulled out after the 2004 season - also due to monetary difficulties.

The Jaguars returned in 2011, but beside a sixth-placed finish in 2013 that also saw them ending the year as runners-up in the RHB Singapore Cup, they have struggled.

They finished ninth among the 12 teams this year, while Woodlands ended the season in 11th spot.

"Presently the S.League is too big for the local environment... the demography of Singapore cannot support it fully, that is one of the key reasons for this initiative," said S.League chief executive Lim Chin.

"Naturally (the reduction in teams will mean) there will be more resources (subsidies) for the remaining clubs and in turn make the S.League even stronger and more competitive, and through that we will help to raise the overall standard of Singapore football."

Admitting that the club have been "a bit stretched" financially, Tanjong Pagar chairman Edward Liu told The New Paper that their inability to secure a main sponsor for 2014 has hurt them.

"After talking to our committee members, I am of the view that we can better contribute to the league by sitting out, and conducting a strategic review of our own resources and conserve to build a better resource base going forward," he said.

Woodlands' officials were uncontactable yesterday, while Hougang chairman Bill Ng declined to comment.

TNP understands that coaching staff and players of Tanjong Pagar, Woodlands and Hougang were only informed yesterday - three days after the end of the 2014 season - of the changes.

"My situation? Limbo," said Woodlands coach Salim Moin, the former Singapore midfield star.

"It's worse for my players but what can I do? We're still waiting for the management to sit down and discuss."

Clubs are required to submit a list of players they wish to retain on their roster for the next year to S.League administrators, usually within 10 days of the last matchday of the current season (Nov 14 this year).

It suggests a number of players from the three affected clubs may struggle to find employment in football.

While the norm is for clubs to only sign single-year contracts with most of their players, Tanjong Pagar have a group who are on two-year deals, including coach Patrick Vallee.

"We will honour all our contractual obligations with players and coaches," said Liu, with Lim asserting that both Woodlands and Hougang will do the same.

"The timing of announcement for any major change will be made only at the end of every season and this is similar to past seasons," said Lim, insisting that affected players will have enough time to find new clubs.

Tampines Rovers chairman Teo Hock Seng believes that some key elements of the league will stay the same, despite the changes to be implemented.

"Balestier Central and Clementi Khalsa merged in the past, and I thought that was a good marriage, and they came out stronger. I don't think there's anything wrong with a merger," he said, of the impending Woodlands-Hougang pairing.

That merger came at the end of the 2002 season.

"I don't think there'll be a drastic difference, it will be a shorter league, but four or five top teams will still compete for the title - we're going to compete," said Teo.

"The spirit of competition is still all there, and our local teams will beat the foreign teams."

shamiro@sph.com.sg

Changes to 2015 Great Eastern-Yeo's S League

FORMAT

Roster reduced to 10 teams from 12 this year, with Tanjong Pagar United to sit out, Woodlands Wellington and Hougang United to merge. League to be played over three rounds instead of the two and a-half round format this year.

FITNESS

Passing grade for mandatory 2.4km fitness test 9min 45sec, from 10min.

AGE RESTRICTIONS (LOCAL PLAYERS)

For a 22-man squad — maximum five players aged 30 and over, minimum three players aged 25 and under.

For a 20-man squad — maximum four players aged 30 and over, minimum two players aged 25 and under.

FOREIGN PLAYERS

Five allowed, with one encouraged to be aged 21 and under (S.League will give incentives for this), no age restrictions on others.


This article was first published on Nov 4, 2014.
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