Young Lions to escape axe, will continue until 2019 SEA Games at least
Despite previous calls for it to be disbanded, the Garena Young Lions project is set to continue for at least another two years.
According to The New Paper, Singapore club chairmen will be informed of the decision by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on Tuesday. It will see Young Lions playing in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the S.League.
This will allow FAS head coach of youth Fandi Ahmad to prepare the team, essentially the country's under-23 side, for the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Since the team's inception in 2003, the concept has divided opinions. While the blue skies' scenario is that putting together the country's best young players into a single team helps the national cause, the team's poor results suggest that the project has its flaws.
For the past two years, the Young Lions have finished bottom of the S.League and accumulated just three league wins in total. They were also dead last in 2003 and 2013.
A SEA Games gold medal has continued to elude the nation, with successive group-stage exits in the 2015 and 2017 editions.
Members of the local football fraternity do not exactly agree with the continuation of the project.
"National priorities come first. I am happy for the players to play for the Young Lions and the uniformed teams while they undergo national service, but they should return to the clubs when their service is over," Tampines Rovers chairman Desmond Ong told The New Paper.
"They will learn more by training and playing alongside senior players. The experienced heads can guide them while the match is going on," Hougang United head coach Philippe Aw said.
An unnamed official hit out, saying: "It is the clubs' responsibility to groom young players. All across the world, it is the clubs who train the youngsters for the benefit of the national team.
"It is not healthy for a young team to win just one game, score just 10 goals and concede 62 times [as the Young Lions did in 2017 S.League].
The Young Lions have had a couple of good seasons since their inception, finishing third in the S.League under Fandi in 2004 and 2006.
The project meant talented players like Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Hassan Sunny and Ridhuan Muhammad benefited from regular playing time at a young age and went on to represent the Singapore national team.
The Lions won three Suzuki Cups in 2004, 2007 and 2012 under Raddy Avramovic with the presence of such players.
The 67-year-old Serbian, who is touted for a return to FAS as an advisor, is one who believes the Young Lions should stay.
"The Young Lions must be kept together in the near future, they just need good coaches to supervise them closely," he said in a recent interview with The Straits Times. "But we also need the clubs to do their part [developing young players]."
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT