SINGAPORE: R Vengadasalam, the former manager of defunct local professional club Woodlands Wellington, wants to shake up the football leagues here and bring about a revival in the grassroots scene. The 56-year-old, known as Venga, is leading a team to contest the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) election, due to be held by the end of 2016.
Venga unveiled his manifesto during a meeting with members of several amateur football clubs earlier this week on Wed (Sep 14). In a meeting with club representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and Islandwide League (IWL), Venga unveiled two members of his team that will contest the FAS election. They are lawyer Alfred Dodwell and football management consultant Ronnie Lee.
The team wants changes to the local S.League, which is currently made up of seven local clubs and two foreign teams - Brunei DPMM and Japan’s Albirex Niigata. Venga proposed that the league be made up of 10 local clubs.
He also called for a system of promotion and relegation to be instituted and for the National Football League to be transformed into a semi-professional competition.
Current FAS Vice-President (VP) Lim Kia Tong, who is also expected to lead a team to contest the election, told Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Sep 16) there needs to be a "real base" before Venga’s suggestions can be implemented.
"The primary factor we have to consider is do we have the team that is able to earn the promotion upward, if a team or two goes downward?” Lim asked. “If you look at the scene in Singapore, we don't have that yet.”
Lim said that if elected, his team may look into privatising the S.League. “As we all know, the S. League has been in operation for about 21 years,” he noted. “In the initial stages, the interest was there. And we are now trying to see how to generate the interest in the S.League.”
“A panel will be set up, comprising three main figures from FAS like (VPs) Bernard Tan, Edwin Tong as well as Thavaneson (chairman of Balestier Khalsa club), to look into the possibility of introducing privatisation. And this panel will be chaired by an independent person from the outside world."
With clubs from the S.League, NFL and IWL holding 31 out of 46 votes in the election, the candidates' plans for the professional league could prove crucial.
FAS VP Lim Kia Tong (Photo: Justin Ong)
Venga’s team also said their plan is to develop a sustainable ecosystem that will provide quality footballers for the national team - and it all starts with grassroots football.
“Biggest change as I said: grassroots football. That is very important to the lifeline of Singapore football,” said Venga. “I know a lot of people are saying that FAS is doing their part, SportSG (Sport Singapore) is doing their part, PA (People’s Association) is doing their part but I still think that all these have to be coordinated across the country.”
“Say if it's an under-14 competition, I do not want 200 players, I want almost 1,000 players playing in that tournament, that's the way to get the best out of the country."
Meanwhile, Mr Lim said if elected, his team will focus on grooming more younger players who can play a high-tempo style of football.
“LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL”
Venga’s ideas have resonated with clubs from the lower tiers. Said Darwin Jalil, manager of NFL side Eunos Crescent: "I think after seeing the manifesto today, this is what should have been done for the last 10 years. I'm definitely excited to see it being implemented should this team win. But most importantly, it gives us a light at the end of the tunnel for Singapore football rather than just following a plan that is not properly shared amongst all the stakeholders."
At Venga’s meeting, the clubs also took turns to air their grievances with the FAS. Most of those present said that they have been neglected and called for a change in management.
Venga commented: "I'm quite happy even though we had about 12-15 clubs here, a lot of the clubs couldn't make it but they will all be receiving emails and they have all shown us that they are willing to support, they want a change.”
“I'm actually not against the present incumbent. If he changes, it is also good for us. It's not that I have to be the one taking charge but I want a change in Singapore football."
Venga also said he would announce his team's full line-up after the FAS annual general meeting on Sep 24.
That is when FAS will seek its affiliates' approval for proposed amendments to its constitution, which concern the election of its office bearers. Among the proposals are for the President and eight council members to be elected as a team. Six more members will be voted in as individuals, and another three candidates with the appropriate skill sets will be co-opted.
FAS will then set a date for the inaugural election, where 46 affiliates are expected to cast their votes for the new team and president.
The candidate for President must have been active in football in two out of the last five years. He could have been an official for instance, or perhaps a coach, referee or administrator. Said Lim: "They must step forward with a lot of passion. They must be able to contribute positively. They must be able to sacrifice their time. They must be able to feel the pulse of football on the ground."