Like most people, my reaction to this rule was anger, disgust and pure disbelief. I couldn’t understand how the S-League could introduce league rules unheard of in any sport from any era.
Before getting into why it clearly wouldn’t work and some solutions. I first tried to wear the hat of the rule maker. For that to happen I got into the following character: I am an individual with no sporting background, I am an individual who has been sheltered from real market forces for most or majority of my career and without me knowing, I possess an air of superiority from years of environmental reinforcement. Lastly, I have behind me invincible forces that catapult me to senior roles despite my apparent lack of fit. Let us empathize with his situation.
With myself firmly in this mental mold, I gave myself the task ‘doing something’ to stigmatize clubs who consistently finish near or at the bottom in an effort to boost their performance.
My first consideration was of course a relegation system. The problem with this solution is extremely apparent, the gap between our division 1 and S-League is too big and their structures so different that it would be impossible to accommodate an S-League team dropping or the promotion of a Division 1 team. This gap exists on every single level that constitutes a football club; players, management, finances etc.
A quick illustration: Majority of division 1 player’s play part time, with promotion into the S-League, few would forgo their real jobs with the risk of relegation the next season. For the S-League players that got relegated, few will follow their team down into Div 1 given their significant or total loss of income. Hence the reality is that most of the relegated S-League players will join the promoted Div 1 team while the relegated S-League team will look to employ the players of the promoted Div 1 team. The team switches but the players remain.
So now, my character has 2 solutions:
- The formidable (but not impossible) task of raising the profile of Division 1 to negate the situation illustrated above.
- This has maximum benefit across all levels of the game; coaches, players, physios, kit men etc
- Introduce synthetic rules that mimic relegation. Something that can be accomplished with the stroke of the mighty pen.
So my opinion is that my character has chosen option 2 because it is simply the easier and ‘army’ option. ‘I will make you perform based on penalizing and not rewarding you’.
So I can imagine my character saying something like this: “In some of my previous employments, I got a lot of people to do what I wanted with my fear inducing penalty based system. Surely it must work here too!”
What my character has failed to realize is the following:
1.He is reducing what is already an extremely paltry salary; how are footballers supposed to feed their families and do aspiring footballers need more reason NOT to turn pro?
“As a footballer for one of the bottom sides, I am given a paltry salary. A great month is when my team win’s or draw’s some games or if I score the odd goal. Then I go home with a salary that makes my wife and kids, parents and myself live decently in a 3-5 room HDB flat. I have without a shadow of a doubt that some portion of the 50k will come from salary reductions and I simply wouldn’t be able to make ends meet anymore”
Have you considered this rule maker?
2. The standard of football will not be raised
On paper behind a desk, putting salaries on the line will see players run, shoot and jump for their ‘lives’. Surely this Gladiator-esque approach will please blood-thirsty fans!
Now consider this rule maker:
“I train 5 hours a day like everyone else, I play 36 games like everyone else and I do the best I can give my club’s infrastructure and coaching staff. How is this fear of losing the ability to feed my children going to make me a better footballer?”
So my character has potentially chased away the entire squad for the bottom 3 teams.
“See you S-League, I’m gonna get a job that doesn’t penalize me for doing my job!”
3. A coach can do wonders, but how can you fault what one does not have or know?
“As coach, I would have either inherited a certain squad and/or have inferior infrastructure and/or simply not have had sufficient world class coaching experiences. How do you expect me to work miracles if I don’t find myself in the right environment or be equipped with similar skills as my European counterparts?
So now coaches will have to suffer a pay cut too.
“I’m better off coaching schools; working with kids who are eager to learn, school administrators who have a much more intelligent outlook on sports and parents who love seeing their kids develop character beyond what is attainable in the classroom. To cap it off, I am offered a whole lot more respect given my exploits as an ex Singapore national player. ”
“See you S-League!”
4. Financial repercussions
To those who don’t know, every S-League team is given an annual budget as participants of the S-League. Clubs are then left on their own to source sponsorships to supplement this budget.
Now say for example, the club finishes last. I am extremely confident no single s-league club will fork out 50k cash on the last day of the season and hand it over in a briefcase to the FAS. Given their obvious participation in the following season’s S-League, it is my guess that this 50k will be ‘cut’ from their following year’s budget.
This has 2 serious implications:
a. Clubs enter a vicious penalty cycle: Clubs given their reduced budgets will look to either field more Prime League players or force their S-League players into part-time contracts. Both of this having the effect of a reducing the club’s payroll. With a squad make up as such, clubs will most definitely fair worse compared to their previous season(s). Unless Zidane’s 16 year old son (and this new Messi kid from AC Milan) decide to sign as a Prime League players, clubs would now find themselves in the rule maker’s induced vicious cycle.
b. Club’s start to gamble: In a bid to overcome the 50k deficit and to ensure they don’t face the penalty again, clubs do a ‘Leeds United’. They break the bank and sign players clearly beyond their financial capabilities. These investments only produce favorable returns under the assumption of a top 6 finish for example. This on any level is not sustainable.
Both outcomes are detrimental to the game.
Now for the solutions:
The foundation of all my solutions will always be to build GROUND-UP! Think how Germany ignored short-term success for their current crop of Ozil’s , how the Spanish ground up philosophy has built without a doubt the best team ever to grace the game. Singapore has neglected this in favor of Brazilians who come here, cash in and then cash out and return to Brazil. Yes shame on you Egmar Goncalves.
The case of relegation is a tricky one. Can Singaporeans stomach a 2 tiered league given their problems simply digesting just the S-League?
The current 10 year plan methodology is clearly the brainchild of old people who are no longer relevant in today’s economy. Instead, let’s have a strategy that most start-ups utilize. Let’s unleash the Minimum Viable Product and iterate from thereon based on market feedback.
The root of the problem is that Division 1 teams can’t afford to pay decent salaries to their players and they therefore can’t turn pro. To solve this problem, we need to think of growing the league’s top-line and this can be achieved by firstly improving Division 1 as a product (long overdue).
1. Organisation and professionalism – FAS needs to start giving Division 1 the respect it deserves
Believe or not, some division 1 teams are run on par or superior to that of S-League teams. They have incredible players, management and sponsors. The baffling bit is that FAS is way off pace in matching the leagues professionalism. Referees don’t show up, flood lights don’t work, pitches are flooded and referees don’t give cards to their pals.
The solution here is too obvious worth mentioning… JUST RUN A LEAGUE PROPERLY. Don’t think I have to get into specifics.
2. Exposure and reach:
On the web:
i. For starters, a website similar to what the S-League has. Offering news, fixtures, player info etc
ii. Advertisers have web real estate on their teams page
iii. If people know where and when the games are, you could even expect an increase in attendance
Issue the development of Division 1 website and each individual club’s website to a single web development company. You instantly get a more coherent and professional image not to mention a better deal.
Side note: Individual S-League clubs have laughable websites now.
i. Why not schedule Division 1 games before all Jalan Besar kick-offs. That way fans rolling into the stadium early could catch some football and get exposed to these teams. (not advisable for natural turfs)
ii. Have a man of the match give away broadcasted live on television before the kick-off of the S-League game.
iii. Advertisers will love the increased exposure.
These measures are inexpensive and in the case of operations and professionalism, completely necessary.
We could look to assess what effects such measures have on a company’s willingness to sponsor. If these measures prove to be successful, we could then look to further enhance the product in these areas. Otherwise, there’s no shame in failing and its back to the drawing board. This is the advantage of not having super long press releases, giant Styrofoam balls and all that ‘taik lembu’ associated with a 10 year plan. You become fast, you become nimble and you respond.
The key here is professionalism and improve the standing of Division 1 as a product. If this is pulled off, you could potentially see S-League clubs willing to send some of their promising youngsters on loan to these Division 1 clubs to enhance their development (Beckham went to Preston North End!). Freshly recovered S-League players could be sent on loan to Division 1 clubs to gain match fitness instead of wasting their time in the Prime League.
Their appeal to sponsors would be significantly heightened and perhaps Singapore Pools starting to take bets for Division 1? This however has to be carefully implemented as the lure of bribes and match fixing could surface.
I would like to point out that I’m not saying these measures alone will see professional players in Division 1 and therefore the possibility of promotion-relegation. What i’m saying is, these are the first few steps we could take to get there…
How about making the S-League more exciting, competitive and attractive?
I would then refer you to my previous post. In this post you will find a long list of solutions. The idea is simple, if you have a well -developed grassroots program, many problems can be avoided and if really not the case, we would be in a situation where all stakeholders are more equipped to find a solution.
My apologies if the article lacks coherence especially towards the end. It’s late and I want to sleep. I’m not here to win a Pulitzer prize, just to stir some debate and make the FAS realize that if they just engaged the community that many logical and practical solutions can be crafted and implemented.
I however understand that if I continue to write like this my credibility will take a blow so rest assured the next few posts will be more articulate and edited for starters J
I welcome all comments!
I don’t care if I’m wrong, I just want my debate to produce good solutions.