Monday, March 18, 2019
Tampines Early Leaders In Stop, Start Singapore
It's been a while since I've bothered writing about Singapore football. The domination of the domestic scene by a foreign side, Albirex Niigata, is not something to celebrate, without taking away respect for the club and their efforts. It has been down to the local clubs to get their act in order and this is something they have patently failed to do. And as evidence for this statement I present the simple fact that the Japanese side won every honour on offer over a three year period.
In that time the powers that be have struggled to find meaning for a domestic football scene that has been struggling for relevance. A name change, the SLeague is now known as the Singapore Premier League, hasn't wowed anybody outside of the business school bubble that continues to be high on jargon but low on action and the latest whiz, if that is what it is, to have clubs ground sharing is hardly going to encourage an already apathetic community to support their local team.
Their has been the odd glimmer in recent years. The consistency of Hariss Harun across the Causeway in Malaysia with Johor Darul Ta'zim for example. The maturity of Safuwan Baharudin now with Pahang. The performances of Hasan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud between the sticks in Thailand. The promise of the Fandi boys Irfan (BG Pathum United) and Ikhsan (Roufoss, Norway). And, whisper, the elder statesman that Baihakki Khaizan has evolved into with his career encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
But while there have been shining lights overseas there has been little stardust locally. Fans looking for heroes continue to stick posters of Messi, Ronaldo and Pogba on their bedroom walls or as wallpaper on their smart phone rather than the likes of Adam Swandi, Shadan Sulaiman or Jordan Webb.
Players like Daniel Bennett and Shahril Ishak were veterans when I first started covering the SLeague 12 years ago. That they are still going strong says much for their professionalism but also heaps about young players coming through (or the standard of the league?). Have once promising players like Khairul Amri and Webb honestly fulfilled their youthful potential? What of Shafiq Ghani?
Against this negativity the new season began with Albirex Niigata, now allowed to feature more local players, losing in the opening Community Shield on penalties to Home United but for all the hype of a rebrand and a reboot Singapore football still looks like something cobbled together in a coffee shop at 3am after too many Tigers and too much nasi lemak.
Tampines are unbeaten after three rounds with a 100% record but Albirex Niigata have played just two games, and had a mini tour of Myanmar inbetween their first and second league games. Following their 0-0 draw against Home United the Japanese side have failed to score in competitive football this season, a fact that will soon change one hopes.
It's not only Albirex which have not played a full quota of games so far this season. Both Young Lions and Warriors have only played one game each! Indeed, with the season only starting 2nd March, it wasn't until last weekend that Warriors played their first game, and instead of using that extra time to be better prepared than their rivals, they were thrashed 5-1 by Hougang United.
Following last weekend's games the league is taking a break and won't return to 29th March when leaders Tampines will be hoping to maintain their perfect start to the season when they host the champions Albirex Niigata. A break so soon? Yep, Singapore will be competing along with Malaysia and either (!) Oman or Afganistan for the never heard of Airmarine Cup in Kuala Lumpur.
A stop start beginning to the new campaign, a watered-down champions taking time out for a mid-season break overseas, the same teams continuing to play each other ad-infinitum, a loss of local identity for teams forced to ground-share. Let's hope things improve...