No plans for LionsXII after getting the boot
A DAY after being booted out of Malaysian football, LionsXII players were no closer to finding out where they will be plying their trade next season.
Disbelief and disappointment echoed across the team's hotel in Kuantan yesterday, where the squad were coming to terms with Tuesday's 1-4 loss to Pahang in the first leg of their Malaysia Cup quarter-final clash.
The squad, along with coach Fandi Ahmad and his backroom staff, had found out about the Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) decision to end the LionsXII's four-year participation via social media and frantic calls from family and friends.
They were barred from speaking to the media by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), who said they were only informed by FAM of the move yesterday evening.
"Our immediate priority is to assist the LionsXII players and backroom staff and we will be meeting them over the next few days," FAS said in a statement last night.
As recently as last week, senior football officials from both sides held talks to extend the partnership, which was signed in 2011 and due to end this year. It saw the LionsXII play in Malaysia and Malaysia's own developmental squad Harimau Muda feature in Singapore's S-League.
"This is a wake-up call for FAS. It's clear we shouldn't be relying on our neighbours anymore to improve our game," said one senior LionsXII player who declined to be named.
FAM deputy president Afandi Hamzah told the Malay Mail newspaper that the decision was motivated by travel costs, noting how "it was not cheap travelling to and from Singapore and many teams found it difficult".
Sources said FAS offered to foot the Malaysian teams' travel bill if their own expenses were covered by their opponents in away matches - even though it amounted to a net cost of around $100,000 a year for the Singapore association.
It is believed that FAM also wanted to take over the LionsXII's television rights, something its Singapore counterpart was unwilling to part with.
The first murmurings of discontent over the LionsXII's participation were heard in 2013, when the V. Sundramoorthy-led outfit won the top-tier Malaysian Super League (MSL).
Following on from their Malaysian FA Cup triumph under Fandi earlier this year, opponents accused the Singaporeans of having an advantage by fielding a near-national team, despite not being allowed to register foreign players like their MSL rivals.
The current episode mirrors Singapore's previous split with Malaysian football in 1994.
The Lions clinched the historic Malaysia Premier League and Cup double but were told to leave after a spat over the gate levy, which Malaysia wanted to increase from 20 to 35 per cent, and match-fixing allegations.