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'Bring in some money into the game' - Former Home United coach Robert Alberts on fixing the S.League

'Bring in some money into the game' - Former Home United coach Robert Alberts on fixing the S.League

Aydin Khalfani

The current Sarawak coach spoke of the issues with S.League on the Football Fever Podcast with Jason Dasey, Mayur Bhanji and Neil Humphreys

With S.League 2.0 at its halfway mark and no real noticeable improvements in support noticed, talks of an S.League 3.0 are already reportedly underway. The discussions have allegedly included, more games, introduction of a promotion-relegation system and the scrapping of the beep test.

Award-winning football writer, Neil Humphreys speaking on his weekly Football Fever Podcast together with Jason Dasey and Mayur Bhanji, noted that an S.League 3.0 would be ultimately futile.

"3.0 is what it is, it's window dressing," said Humphreys.

"No more, no less. Changing beep test, relegation-promotion, will not make a difference unless there's a fundamental cultural change in Singapore and for that to happen it must come from the top.

"I know it sounds like a broken record, but it must come from the government down. They must invest money, and I mean real money. Tens of millions of dollars which is still pocket change to the Singapore government anyway."

The writer of several Singapore related books added that money has been invested primarily in arts and tourism, citing the Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa as examples before adding: "Sometimes I think they should just put casinos in every S.League football club!"

Sarawak FA Coach, Robert Alberts, who was a guest on the show also added his thoughts on the state of the S.League.

"When it started it was like the breakaway league, from the Malaysian League,more or less," recalled the renowned football coach.

"So we had 25 to 30,000 people watching the local matches.

"I think after that, it's the same as what happened in Malaysia - the TV took over.

"I think both countries were not really prepared for the big impact the English league had in this part of the world, and I think that's why everybody struggled.

"Malaysia went down, all over the region the numbers went down, except maybe Indonesia where they don't have the Astro and all the satellite [channels] and things like that so they still support their home clubs.

"But here you watch TV and now they start doing what I can see is a lot of promotion. You need to do this, you need to do that, but people are not coming for that. People are coming for the game itself and I think people have lost a bit of interest in the game because it's the same teams in the same area over and over, the same football faces, the same people running the show, so people lose interest in that aspect.

Drawing on regional examples Alberts touched on the means to boost the flagging support for the S.League.

"I think open up [the league] for foreigners with quality," added Alberts.

"Bring in some money into the game. [Then you can say] 'Drogba's coming here', 'a big name player's coming here'.

"Attraction. That is how it worked in Japan, that is how it worked in Korea, it's working now in China, and there's no shortage of money in Singapore, there's no shortage of money in Malaysia.

"It's only we handle it differently, it's political money. Over there the money is going into sports events and if we do that over here I'm convinced people will come and see a big name player play. But not a player who cannot play for a long time. He must be a player that is still really recognised, a current good player.

"You can go to the big companies. Companies can sponsor players to come in. They can pay the salaries for them, not the clubs.

Fellow panelist, Bhanji also added his thoughts on the state of the S.League.

"What's wrong with Singapore football for me, is a lack of organisation," said the former BBC pundit.

"You've got the LionsXII which has taken away large parts of the S.League support, or what there was of S.League support."

Although host Dasey pointed out that LionsXII have been pulling in the crowds, Bhanji reiterated the negative impact of the Malaysian Super League side, just as former guest and Tampines Rovers and Singapore striker Aleksandar Duric had done several podcasts ago.

"What they should have done, for me, is that, 'no thanks to the LionsXII, forget about that.' It's history, it was great to be part of the Malaysian League, it was prestigious, but you need to move with the time.

"If you want your own flourishing league put some money into it. Don't just forget about it.

"FAS has just washed right over it and said, 'You sit there quietly, just keep going  and let us know how you go occasionally, and we'll keep running the LionsXII'.

"What they could have done, is not bothered with the LionsXII and invested that money back into the S.League. Make people know about it. Make them want to come to the game. Do initiatives within it, promote it heavily.

"If you promote something, people will go to it eventually.

"It comes gradually. Steven Gerrard won't turn up here overnight. You'll have to work your way up the levels of football."

Alberts, who has been named as one of several candidates to replace Singapore national coach Radojko Avramovic should the long-serving Serbian not renew his contract at the end of the year, noted the quality of the S.League in its early years.

"I remember in the beginning we had some good players in the country here," said Alberts.

"We had players from Iran who played in the world cup, Majid Motlagh.

"I remember a match between Home United and SAF for the championship and it was a high quality match. It was really good football, it was not like local football, it was a step higher.

"Both these teams, we had Vlado Bozinovski who had played at Ipswich Town, had fantastic players, true professionals,

"SAF had some players from Croatia, it was really good level football.

"People come to see the game, not to win a TV or to win a scooter from a lucky draw. I come to see the game."

Closing the discussion, Humphreys also added his opinion on the LionsXII as a short-fix solution, and that what was needed was a fundamental overhaul from the top-down.

"You have to put serious money and it has to be grassroots and it has to be from youth level up," stated the long-time Singapore resident.

"Unless that happens, the S.League will never ever get any better.

"You can have all the LionsXII in the world, and nothing's going to change that."

                        You can listen to the entire podcast here
Football Fever Podcast is published weekly on Singapore