|By Afifah Ariffin|
It all began in 1994, when the Football Association of Singapore decided to opt out of the Malaysian League, and the inception of the S.League came a year after with the launch taking place in 1996.
But after nearly two decades of success and struggle for the domestic league, Singapore football legend, Fandi Ahmad, believes that the early years got it right.
The accomplished footballer has had a successful S.League campaign throughout his illustrious career. In the S.League’s inaugural season, Fandi captained Geylang United to become the first ever champions, and concluded his career after three seasons at SAFFC (now Warriors FC), during which he grabbed two more S.League titles.
“To tell you the truth, the ’96 format was the best,” said the three-time S.League champion.
“I thought the last format was fair. Every team had two national players and two under-23 players, plus five foreigners,” he reasoned.
Fandi argues that the result of the current system is that teams tend to become unbalanced, giving an unfair advantage to teams with the extra funding.
“Now, I don’t know if it’s a balanced team and if it’s fair or not," he questioned.
"Some foreigners have a local passport and the teams gain an extra man or two. So some teams end up playing with six or seven foreigners, while some clubs can’t afford any."
The current head coach of Johor Darul Takzim believes that “all players have to be given out to clubs fairly.”
“Right now, the rich become richer and the weak become weaker," he added.
"And if you go down you have to pay a fine. I don’t know where it’s going,”
Speaking on how to make the S.League more exciting, Fandi shrugged it off saying, “I’m not sure” and that it was really left to the “administrators” to make the call.
But one thing that he believes in is that the league should revert to how things were in its early stages.
When the S.League debuted in 1996, it had 8 teams in the running and was split into two series. In each series, teams played each other in home and away matches, with the winner of each series meeting in a playoff to decide the overall champion.
Nonetheless, the format was replaced the following year by the traditional league format, and the S.League eventually expanded to include more teams.
“It [was] more interesting,” recalled Fandi. “If not, the positions are determined by the halfway mark of the round and it is not interesting anymore.”
The current season of the S.League has adopted a 2.5 round system similar to that of the Scottish League, with teams being divided into two halves after the conclusion of two rounds. The top 6 and bottom 6 teams will play against the teams in their own half to determine the final league standings.