Having top local league teams from the Asean region and allowing them to battle for supremacy is the theme behind Asean Super League (ASL), a long-standing idea, which is getting close to reality.
ASL task force chief and former president of Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Zainudin Nordin is confident that the proposed league will help nurture local talents.
ASL has the backing of Asean Football Federation (AFF) and is likely to have teams from 10 member countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore - in its first season, which is expected to kick start in August 2017, according to reports. Private investors from the region have joined hands with the AFF for the project.
However, there has been fierce opposition against the proposed league from the football fraternity in the region. Domestic leagues of most of the member countries are fretting how much more their players can take if there is more activity in an already-packed football season. Since the league is expected to kickstart in August every year, it will clash with the ongoing local leagues and player availability will become an issue.
In Singapore, it is speculated that the now-defuct Lions XII will be revamped and will be representing the republic in the ASL, a move which has reportedly faced opposition from top stars including former Tampines Rovers player, Jermaine Pennant.
Also, TodayOnline reported that an online petition, started by local football personality R Vengadasalam, began to circulate in Singapore, opposing the ASL. According to him, the proposed league has the potential to hurt S.League.
Venga added that the FAS' focus should be on developing the local league and improving the quality of players, who go onto represent the country rather than creating a new league.
Singapore's early exit from the ongoing 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup has also sparkled debates about whether S.League is helping promote new talent. Notably, the Lions, four-time winners, collected only one point from three games, which is also their worst group stage performance in the Asean tournament's history.
Nevertheless, Zainudin believes that the ASL will be the game-changer and will bring "professionalism" in the region. He also said that there will be room for lesser-known names to shine in the local league if big stars head to feature in the Asean league.
"I believe there is enough talent in Singapore and we have always worked hard to make the S.League stronger in various ways and I trust that the FAS will continue to do so," Zainudin said, as quoted by The New Paper.
"I hope people can look at the bigger picture and allow footballers to expand their horizon wherever they want to go.
"If the top local footballers are playing in the ASL, it will allow more talent to step up and be exposed in the S.League, which creates an ecosystem in which we can develop more players.
"The vision is for the project to be a game-changer and enabler to bring up the quality and professionalism of football in this region, and also to bring together the total population of over 600 million.
Speaking on the issue of clashing schedule between the local leagues and ASL, the 53-year-old added: "We will have to work out a transfer market system for the ASL clubs to compensate the local teams. These are all part and parcel of creating a viable ecosystem and bringing up the quality and professionalism of football in the region."