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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Young Lions could be scrapped from S.League in 2018 season - report

Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson mull over the implications should the S.League take a one-year break in 2018.

The Young Lions could cease to exist from the 2018 season onwards, as the post-mortem goes on after Singapore's second successive group-stage exit at the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games.

According to The New Paper, an unnamed club chairman called for the disbandment of the under-22 national side, who play in S.League, during a meeting at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) last Friday.

The argument is that it will be more beneficial for local youth players to be fighting for spots at mainstream S.League teams.

The dearth of talent coming through at clubs was discussed in detail during last week's meeting.

"There has been a constant statement that the league has not been a good platform to produce better national players," FAS president Lim Kia Tong told The New Paper.

"That's accounted for, perhaps, the performance of the national team."

Singapore are now at their lowest-ever world ranking of 171st after failing to win a game at senior level since Nov. 2016.

Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson review Singapore's disappointing crashing out of the SEA games.

The Young Lions' project was set up in 2003 with the aim of providing young players with regular playing time ahead of the biennial SEA Games, which became an age-group tournament in 2001.

However, in the eight SEA Games since then, Singapore exited the group stage five times. They won bronze on the other three occasions, with the men's football gold medal continuing to elude them.

Their performances in the S.League have also dipped in recent seasons. This year's squad will possibly end as the first league side in history to go through and entire campaign without a single victory.

With 10 games left, they are rooted to the bottom of the nine-team table, with just three points from 24 outings.

Their poor results have led to critics claiming that they do not justify their existence and privileges, like having priority on young talent from S.League outfits.

S.League coaches have backed the suggestion to disband the Young Lions, but with certain conditions.

Balestier Khalsa's Marko Kraljevic says it is better for Singapore's rising talent to learn from senior players at S.League clubs.

Balestier Khalsa's Marko Kraljevic believes FAS needs to add a seventh local side to the league, should that happens.

Clubs like Gombak United, Tanjong Pagar United and Woodlands Wellington, who have sat out in recent years, are possible options.

"I do think it is better for those young players to play at clubs," said Kraljevic, who has played and coached in Singapore since the S.League's inaugural season in 1996.

"At clubs, they will have foreign players, and some older players whom they will learn from every day.

"They may not be in the starting XI every game, but it is good for them to have to fight to play.

"At the Young Lions, they know they will play for sure, so they are in their comfort zone. And if you are in your comfort zone, you will never improve."

On the other side of the Causeway, neighbours Malaysia ended their Harimau Muda developmental program in 2015, with their youth players returning to their respective state teams the following season.

Malaysia score winning goal in SEA Games semi v Indonesia
Malaysia over-achieved to win the SEA Games silver medal in men's football last month.

The move has arguably paid off as they put up a series of impressive displays in the recently concluded SEA Games, and were a whisker away from snatching the gold medal from Thailand in Kuala Lumpur.

FAS technical director Michel Sablon is, however, against the idea of scrapping the Young Lions altogether.

"It would be a very, very bad decision for Singapore football," said the 69-year-old, who is famed for developing Belgium's blueprint that developed world-class players like Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard.

"If we send the players to the clubs and then they don't play, we would lose a whole generation of players.

"The Young Lions have given them an opportunity to play at a level which is a little too bit high for them, yes, but it is good for them to learn."

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