LionsXII to play in the Malaysian Super League

This isn’t news, really: it’s about half a year ago that the football associations of Singapore (FAS) and Malaysia (FAM) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that they would send teams for the other’s domestic competitions. Some updates to it: here’s the FAM expressing their approval and support for the venture, as covered by Shamir Osman of Today, and here is the official lineup of the Singapore team LionsXII provided by Liga Singapura.

Below is the reproduction of my Facebook comment in reply to the article.

If there is a faction who considers this move does little more than benefit Malaysian football, count me in. I’m aware of the constant complaints of Singaporeans that the “Malaysia Cup days” had much more emotion and impact, I was there towards the end, but I don’t consider going BACK to a similar setup as moving FORWARD for Singapore football. If anything, it’s more beneficial to Malaysia.

The Harimau Muda, already composed of players who have international experience at age-group level, spent 8 months in Slovakia at a training camp after winning the Malaysian Premier League in 2009. They will get more overseas exposure this time closer to home in an S.League that once counted itself among the top ten in Asia, against teams like Tampines Rovers and SAFFC who have international experience at club level.

Our LionsXII, a team cobbled together from the ruins of the Young Lions, will be going up north to compete in the Malaysian Super League – won by 6 different teams since its inception in 2004. In theory, this looks like a more competitive league, and it probably is, but removing the risk of relegation reduces the MSL to a longer version of the S.League. I won’t say anything about the calibre of the opposition because I haven’t been watching, so I can’t judge.

One benefit I can see for LionsXII? They will have to face larger crowds and travel farther on away days, which will probably help build character on the players’ part. But what message are we sending them? “It’s OK to lose, you can avoid the consequences.” How much softer do Singaporeans need to be? FAM Vice-President Hamidin says the LionsXII have enough problems with National Service and World Cup qualifiers, so they should have a bigger squad and no relegation – did this help them in the S.League? Not very much. I doubt it will help them in the MSL.

The Harimau Muda have gained a lot from the FAM’s willingness to chop and change to accommodate their footballing development – no foreigners, yes foreigners, splitting into two, training in Slovakia, playing in the Premier League, playing in the U-19 tournaments in China – but what has the FAS done for our Young Lions?

Bring foreign-born players in for the Young Lions in 2010. Send them to SEA Games in 2011 with a different coach from the one who’s coached them all season in the S.League, albeit including the original coach as one of the ‘team officials’. Who knows what role he played then?

It is just my speculation, but maybe the reason why Stuart Ramalingam, MSL chief executive, wants Singapore to be a “permanent fixture” is the same as why “60 per cent” of the old energy would be enough for FAM Vice-President Hamidin. Gate receipts. Maybe that’s why the other Malaysian teams can swallow the fact that Singapore’s LionsXII will be exempt from relegation. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time this was an issue.

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