The report below appeared in today’s edition of TODAY:
Get ready for some French flair
(TODAY, 19 January 2010)
FAS boss banking on new addition Etoile to bring ‘excitement’ to the S-League
By Low Lin Fhoong
SINGAPORE – Football fans here may well be chanting “Allez les Bleus!” when the 2010 Great Eastern-Yeo’s S-League season kicks off on Feb 1, with the addition of French side Etoile FC to the competition.
Etoile and China’s Beijing Guo’an were officially confirmed yesterday as the final two teams to contest the coming S-League season, after both clubs met Football Association of Singapore (FAS) requirements, including bankers’ guarantees of about $500,000 each.
Etoile, who say their entire playing squad will be made up of French nationals, will be based at the Queenstown Stadium, while the Chinese side will operate out of Yishun Stadium.
No Europe-based club has featured on the S-League roster since its launch in 1996, and with possible signings like former Cameroon defender Lucien Mettomo, the S-League could be a different ball game this year. Mettomo, a former Manchester City, Southampton and Kaiserslautern player who holds dual French and Cameroonian citizenship, is in the club’s sights but the 32-year-old will need to pass a medical test first.
Speaking to the media yesterday, FAS president Zainudin Nordin said he expected both teams to “finish in the top half, making them among the strongest foreign sides we’ve had in our league so far”.
“When you have a team from Europe, there’s an injection of excitement, which is the value they will bring,” said Zainudin. “Having Etoile FC, and new players signed (by the other clubs), we’re looking to more people coming to watch the games.”
Comprising a mix of young and experienced players, including footballers currently competing in first and lower division leagues in England, France and Spain, Etoile are looking to rally the French community here to fill the 2,000-seater Queenstown Stadium.
“The key is to sign decent players and bring up the standard of the S-League,” said Etoile FC chief executive officerJohan Gouttefangeas.
“We will work through the embassy, the French school, French chamber of commerce, Alliance Francaise, all the major companies here.
The French Ambassador is helping us with this.”
Filling the trophy cabinet is one of Etoile’s targets, but Gouttefangeas warned that adapting to the heat and humidity here initially could be a stumbling block for the 22-man squad.
“It’s -5 to -10 degrees in France currently, so it’s going to take some time,” he said. “But they have to and that will take a couple of weeks.”
Jita Singh, the FAS’ senior head, game development, who watched the team in training in Aignon last month, is confident that Etoile will be a hit.
“They have the potential to be in the top five,” he told MediaCorp.
“If they’re able to capture the audience and if they’re able to adjust and counter local tactics, then perhaps they may make an impact this year itself.”
S-league 2010 line-up
SAFFC, Tampines Rovers, Gombak United, Home United, Geylang United, Albirex Niigata, Young Lions, Woodlands Wellington, Sengkang Punggol, Balestier Khalsa, Etoile FC, Beijing Guo’an
To be honest, when I first read it, I immediately had my apprehensions. And my feelings of concern had nothing to do with the report’s cheesey and presumptuous headline and opening paragraph.
My first thoughts when I found out that French side Etoile FC, one of two latest foreign clubs to join the S-League were “Oh no, not another start-up football club?”
Unlike Albirex Niigata and Beijing Guoan, the other new S-League foreign entrant, Etoile does not have a parent club in the French football league to tap players from.
Instead, it will be made up of players from, according to their CEO Johan Gouttefangeas, from the lower divisions of the English, French and Spanish league.
Thing is, is that a workable model?
Remember Sporting Afrique? It was a start-up operation which saw a whole bunch of African footballers being signed to form a club to compete in the 2006 S-League as one of the competition’s foreign clubs.
Unfortunately, its S-League adventure lasted only one season but what a colourful and controversial season it was. The club found itself mired in all sorts of controversies away from the field including salary disputes.
The club also finished ninth in its first season, well below the top-three position that it had promised.
Of course, it didn’t help matters that Sporting was constantly losing its top players who were sold by its management whenever an interested overseas club came a-calling. Not surprisingly, the FAS called time on Sporting’s participation in the S-League after just one season.
You can read more about Sporting’s misadventures here.
Sporting aside, we have seen how other previous start-ups like Sinchi, Liaoning and even the Super Reds in their debut season failed to get it all together, and ended up being more of an embarrassment to the S-League than an asset as they floundered about at the bottom half of the table.
So let’s just hope that the players that Etoile gets are of a quality that will be higher than that of reigning champions Singapore Armed Forces FC, Home United, Tampines Rovers and for that matter, Gombak United.
If not, then really, what is the point of having a team made up of European players if they are not able to challenge for the title or a top-three spot at the minimum in their debut system?
How does that raise the standard of the S-League?
In that sense, Brunei’s DPMM was a breath of fresh air to the S-League last year as they were truly a tenacious and quality sidfe. They had a good coach, good foreign signings and the bulk of their local players were Brunei internationals.
They were so surprisingly good that they even won silverware (the League Cup) in their first season. And they would have finished second had they not been barred from playing in the S-League by Fifa.
Now that’s the sort of INSTANT IMPACT I am expecting to Etoile, none of that sit-on-the-fence “finish in the top half” predictions that are being made, thank you very much.
To be fair to Etoile, I will not expecting any great results or performances from it in the first three weeks as their players struggle to adapt to the humidty and tropical weather.
But once they acclimatise, expect my scrutiny on them to be even more intense. Because at the end of the day, these foreing clubs are still getting public money from the FAS to help subsidise their operating costs.
Likewise, I hope the local media will do the same.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan