S.League side Young Lions Tuesday (2 Feb) unveiled leading Internet company Garena as their new sponsor in a deal that will see them receive $4 million over the next two years.
This is the largest such deal for a club in the 21-year history of the league, according to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
Previously sponsored by furniture giants Courts Asia for the past five years, the team will now be known as Garena Young Lions and wear jerseys emblazoned with the Shopee brand, the company’s consumer-driven marketplace app.
Under the terms of the deal, the Young Lions will receive $2 million each year - half to go directly towards supplementing team costs and the rest for “promotion and development” of the team.
Speaking at a press conference at Garena’s headquarters at the Galaxis building in One-North, FAS president Zainudin Nordin told reporters that the sponsorship was a “great vote of confidence” for the association’s programmes.
Boost for youth
“Resources have always been a key constraint faced by the FAS,” he explained. “The money will be spent wisely on the development of our most promising young talents and to build the next generation of national team players.”
He added that the additional resources from the sponsorship deal will also help make youth development in local football “very interesting”.
“Now… we can consider how to push some of the younger talents for very focused development, (such as) sending them for overseas (training),” he explained.
“The other opportunity is for us to get good quality teams (as sparring opposition), whether we travel or bring them to Singapore.”
One such match has already been arranged with the Under-21 side of a “top-ranked” Asian nation, which is part of the FAS’s plans to provide the Young Lions with development opportunities outside of the S.League schedule this season. These will include overseas training stints and participating in other competitions.
Zainudin added that bringing in experienced personnel who can enhance players’ technical abilities will be looked at, to complement the likes of technical director Michel Sablon and national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy, who are already in the FAS stable.
Development will be a “key focus” for the Young Lions, who are set to field the youngest-ever team in S.League history. The team will comprise players mostly from the national under-21 team - in past seasons, they were made up of mainly national under-23 players.
Singapore stalwart Khairul Amri, 30, will lead the side, which The New Paper has reported will be helmed by Frenchman Patrick Hesse. Other details of the squad are yet to be revealed, with further announcements expected to be made over the coming weeks.
Young Lions to tough it out in league
The Young Lions are likely to be in for a difficult season. Zainudin insisted they will fight “tooth and nail” in every game, adding that specific targets have not been set. In the 2015 season, the Young Lions ended in 9th position, just above bottom club Hougang United.
“We want to be realistic… but we are not giving up,” he asserted. “We will enhance them with a few seniors but we are confident by the time they are in their rhythm, it will be interesting to watch.”
Garena founder and group CEO Forrest Li also stated that he is not expecting any returns of investment nor put in any key performance indicators in the deal, but instead considered it as “giving back” to the community.
Li, a football fan, added that Garena is very supportive of developing young talent and hopes its sponsorship can spur other companies to get involved.
“I think we need to start somewhere to help domestic football,” the China-born Singaporean explained. “I’d love to see people come back to the stadiums, to cheer the players.
“Two years is pretty long and I think we can get a lot of things done. If after two years, we see all those players grow as professionals and as a person, I’d love to continue. We think very long-term and… this is a starting point.
“We believe this is the right thing for us to do.”