Success in one season does not necessary mean anything. In a country where the number one sport is football, it’s a shame that the organisation of certain things within the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) for the most prestigious cup competition can be taken so lightly.
The RHB Singapore Cup draw was held on outdoor premises at Bugis Junction over the last weekend, with the authorities aiming to attract the interest of fans, who have been shunning our domestic league for the past couple of years. Freshness and creativity were the factors which the S-League Business Unit’s (SBU) Mr Lim Chin cited, but the way in which the draw was conducted was totally unacceptable.
A juggling (keeping the ball afloat on air, without letting it touch the ground) competition, allowed players from respective clubs to pit their wits against each other in terms of the technical abilities, was conducted, and with the “fittest survive” concept, Albirex Niigata (S) player, Yutaka Nishi)lasted longest, and hence resulting in the Japanese outfit to be the top seed in the competition.
The 2011 edition’s runners up rode on their luck, and were drawn to play a relatively unknown side in the mould of Yotha FC (Laos) as they were seeded first. On the contrary, Home United, the defending Champions of the tournament, were drawn alongside current S-League leaders Brunei DPMM which meant that the defending Champions faces the prospect of a first round exit, against the strong side, despite having beaten the Bruneians 1-0 just a couple weeks ago at Jalan Besar Stadium.
It was understood that some official within FAS stated that there had been no seeding given to the teams in the past, but a quick check through the past records showed that Home United and Geylang United were given a bye into the next round in the 2004’s edition after featuring in the finals of 2003. In that edition, there were not enough teams to make up the total number of 16 which was needed, and hence the two finalists of the previous edition gained the advantage of not needing to play in round one of the competition.
Now, the above paragraph clearly represents the standard tradition in each and every single major cup competition. Seeding will be given to the winners and there will definitely be a slight advantage for the defending champions. But the judging by the juggling competition isn’t the way forward. It is absolutely not wrong to create new ideas and to maintain the freshness of things, but if something which is implemented is deemed a laughing stock by the people who are watching, and are concerned by it, there is really a need for the officials to rethink about how they can actually do this better.
With regards to the selection of teams, this aspect is another big question mark caused by the authorities. When we got information about the participating teams, South Melbourne FC was one team which will return to participate in this edition of the Singapore Cup. However, the Australian outfit decided to pull out one week before the draw citing the clash in schedules between their domestic league and the cup competition as their decision to pull out.
In their place came Yotha FC out of the blue, and how many of us know where this team comes from without searching on the internet? Do not get me wrong. Each and every team has their own distinctive trait and I have utmost respect for every team that comes here to compete.
My question remains is there a benchmark or a criteria that the teams need to meet before they are considered as invitational sides? If there is, why aren’t we seeing teams from Thailand, when their representatives have been the ones that had been doing well in the tournament? Chonburi FC almost won it in 2006 until Aliff Shafaein’s heroics late on in extra time denied them (Tampines Rovers won 3-2 in extra time). Bangkok Glass FC qualified for the finals twice in succession, winning it once in 2010, and remains the only invitational side to have won it in the history of the competition. The beat 2011 S-League Champions Tampines Rovers via a late own goal by Benoit Croissant.
There is no point in trying to create a new flavor which doesn’t work, and doing it for other reasons. What we really need here is quality football, which can provide good competition for our teams seeking progression. When the football on the pitch is good, the fans will automatically turn up for the games.
The authorities can set a bar, and make their selection based on what they have set. Some possibilities may include inviting teams from stronger leagues from across this region, for instance, Thailand and Malaysia. Teams are rejecting the opportunity to join us here for the knock out competition mainly because of their domestic schedules, and also probably due to the worthiness of the cause. The financial aspect of it I believe is a big factor when teams make considerations for their participation. When the teams travel, the travelling and accommodation expenses incurred may not be to the teams’ favor and if FAS were to pay to invite those teams here, we should be spending money, to invite quality sides.
If there isn’t any selection criterion by the FAS, a bold suggestion will be to include the teams in the National Football Leagues (NFL). One may question the quality of football played by those amateurs in that league, but this could be a stepping stone to a future promotion/ relegation system in the future. Results aside, if the participation of the lower league teams is successful, it will bring the standards between the professional and non professional leagues closer. The promotion/ relegation system could be feasible after all.
Allowing teams from the lower leagues of the country to participate in the cup competition will also spur these teams on, to recruit well for the tournament, and put the bigger names of the S-League to test.
In the early days of the competition (1999 and 2000), NFL sides had been involved, only to be whipped by the big boys from the S-League, and the idea was eventually scrapped.
We take a look at Bangkok Glass FC’s decision to not defend their title in 2011. For me on a personal note, I feel that without the defending Champions defending their title is totally unacceptable. Everyone wants to beat the defending champions, and if the defending champion doesn’t participate, the value of the whole tournament drops a little in my opinion. It was made known that the Glass Rabbits excluded themselves from the tournament in 2011 mainly due to their commitments in their domestic league.
How then, can the problems faced be minimized? There are some teams which had come back every year to be involved in the competition, but those teams are the “smaller” football teams in this part of the world. If the FAS were to entice them with such opportunities, it is difficult for them to turn down the offer, because to those teams, it is a step forward while it remains to be seen if it is a step forward for our teams here in Singapore.
When there is a desire to do something, getting it done and getting it done the proper way are two totally different issues which will produce different results. While teams invited can draw the crowd based on their popularity here, is it a one off affair, or will there be continuity based on what was planned?
Do not associate this competition with the Asean Super League, which had been on many lips since the turn of the century, because if the Asean Super League is to materialize, it will be the top teams from every country pitting their wits in a highly demanding competition.
This is just a distant dream, if one ever had, that will lead Singapore football to nowhere. It’s really time for a change, with rethinking the utmost priority for now.