OPINION: Time to scrap the Young Lions.

By Jose Raymond

The time has come to put an end to the Young Lions project in the Singapore Premier League.

The Young Lions have been playing in the local league competitions like the S-League and Singapore Cup since 2003.

The Young Lions project was an experiment to keep the young players competing together, with the aim of doing well at competitions especially the SEA Games. 

But the statistics prove that this has not been beneficial at all for the national football cause. 

Since the Young Lions project was introduced in 2003, Singapore’s football team has not made the finals of the SEA Games final at all, and have been knocked out at the group stages in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

If the objective of the the Young Lions was to help keep a team together and to perform at the SEA Games, it is rather obvious that the objectives have failed miserably.

And still, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has not figured out that this project is worth killing.

As what a letter writer to the Straits Times has suggested, the Young Lions do not seem to understand what it feels like to be winning. 

The highest the Young Lions have finished in the local league has been in third spot, in 2004 and 2006.

In 2017, the Young Lions ended up with only 6 points after a 24-match season. It had one miserable win.

But the most important statistic which we should be paying attention to is that since a bronze in 2013, the team been knocked out at the group stages in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and are sent packing even before the many other competitions even begin.

It can also be framed that Singapore’s footballers have probably failed to make the finals of the SEA Games BECAUSE of the Young Lions project, because the stats since 2003 certainly justifies the framing.

Why the FAS continues to stick with this experiment is rather baffling, as we don’t see any of the countries in the region which have picked up the gold medal at the SEA Games embarking on such a scheme. 

It is not innovative, and has been ostensibly detrimental to Singapore football.

<story continues below>

Advertisement

The argument that the youngsters would not get playing time in the local league if the Young Lions is disbanded is misguided, and is a straw man argument without basis. 

We are all well aware that if the FAS insists, it can enact competition policies which ensure the U-21s have playing time in the local league with clubs.

Having the Young Lions play in the local league is also an easy solution for the FAS, as it will help them check a box which has our young players getting training and competition.

Parents of these players must look at it from a different perspective, as our boys must be playing alongside seasoned professionals and foreign players, playing overseas, training with overseas clubs, with foreign stints and attachments when it is safe for everyone to travel post-covid 19. 

The Young Lions is a convenient project, and the longer it remains, the more it makes it look like the people in charge have no other solutions to help lift Singapore’s football fortunes at the SEA Games level.

Questions to ask would be what is the cost of keeping this Young Lions team and its personnel on an annual basis and if the money spent can be better utilised for football in Singapore.

The team needs to be disbanded, and the players sent to other local or foreign clubs playing in the Singapore Premier League.

This Young Lions experiment has failed, and it is time to accept it.

Photo: FAS/SNOC – SEA Games 2019