The Lion City Sailors (LCS) Football Academy has been recognised for its robust development system for elite youth footballers in Singapore, having been conferred Two-Star Academy status by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) under its AFC Elite Youth Scheme.

The LCS Football Academy – which develops players from the age of three to 18 – is now one of only four academies in Southeast Asia to receive Two-Star grading, alongside Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim FC Academy, NFDP Mokhtar Dahari Academy (AMD), as well as Thailand’s Chonburi FC Academy.

Launched in 2017, the AFC Elite Youth Scheme recognises academies in elite youth football through three tiers: One, Two, and Three-Star. A total of 22 club academies have been endorsed under this scheme, with only two currently on the highest tier of Three-Star – namely, South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC Academy, and Vietnam’s PVF Academy. 

The LCS Football Academy received a Two-Star accreditation in April after meeting the assessment criteria set out by the Asian football governing body’s Youth Panel. The evaluation covers 20 performance categories, including administration, facilities, programmes, as well as player-centric factors such as welfare, psychology, and education.

“We’re proud to be amongst an elite group who have been awarded with the Two-Star Academy status,” said LCS chairman Forrest Li. “This is testament to the hard work that our Academy has put in over the past few years to ensure professionalism in all areas, from having specialist staff for every age-group team, to establishing a clear pipeline from the Academy to the First Team.”

AFC assessors Withaya Laohakul and Razip Ismail paid a visit to the Lion City Sailors Training Centre earlier in March and were impressed by the efforts that the Academy puts in to ensure the holistic development of the youth players. 

“The LCS Football Academy has a good foundation, including a well-defined coaching structure, development plan for the club, coaching and playing philosophy, player profiles by position, training methodology, and financial stability.

“With strong leadership led by the club’s Technical Director, Sporting Director, and General Manager, along with their clear planning, vision, and philosophy, they’re heading in the right direction to succeed in youth development,” said Withaya. 

Since attaining a One-Star grade back in September 2020, the LCS Football Academy has made sustained improvement and remarkable strides in various aspects. 


The operationalisation of the LCS Training Centre – the first-of-its-kind integrated football training facility in Singapore – in July 2022 is perhaps the biggest improvement that has been made over the past four years.

Equipped with physiotherapy rooms, a gym, an analysis room, and study facilities for academy trainees, alongside five top-of-the-line football fields, the Training Centre houses both Academy and First Team staff. Regular meetings between both parties ensure that goals and objectives are aligned, providing the club with the software and hardware needed to handle the rigours and demands of a modern and competitive football academy.

To complement the facility, the Academy has emphasised staffing in terms of both quantity and the variety of roles. Specialist staff now oversee every age-group team, including strength & conditioning coaches, sports psychologists, doctors, academic officers, and a full-time nutritionist who tailors the diet and nutritional requirements of the academy trainees.

The Academy also fully utilises technology to support academy trainees, employing match analysis tools like Hudl, and monitoring systems such as GPS and heart rate monitors.

Scholarship and education

The Academy’s Elite Development Programme – a multi-million dollar scholarship programme – is now into its fourth batch of scholars, with over 50 players from cohorts born between 2008 and 2011 benefitting from a well-rounded programme. This includes weekly local matches, quarterly overseas training camps, an annual major overseas tournament, as well as training stints with top foreign clubs.

The LCS Football Academy also ensures that its top talents are able to balance their footballing progress with robust academic development by partnering with St Joseph’s Institution (SJI) International.

The SJI International-LCS Elite Development Scholarship covers all associated school costs incurred leading up to either the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) or, for some scholars, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma. The IGCSE is equivalent to the Singapore-Cambridge General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O-Level), which enables entry into local polytechnics and junior colleges.

Acceptance into SJI International is subject to the scholars being deemed to be able to cope with its academic rigours, with entry evaluation carried out by the institution.

At present, there are two cohorts of scholars enrolled in the scholarship programme. Selected scholars also have the opportunity to pursue early enlistment for National Service (NS) after completing the IGCSE, facilitated by the Lion City Sailors Early Enlistment Bond. This initiative aims to prepare scholars for a career in professional football.

Early Enlistment Bond 

The bond, launched in December 2020, involves selected trainees enlisting for NS after completing secondary education, under Singapore’s Voluntary Early Enlistment Scheme. The aim is for them to fully immerse themselves in the rite of passage for Singaporean males before directing their full attention towards pursuing their footballing dreams.

When these players return to football, they are guaranteed a four-year professional contract with the club. Their primary aim would then be to battle for a spot in the Sailors’ first team, before eventually seeking to secure a move to a European club.

There have been four cohorts under the bond since its launch, with the first two batches already completing their Operationally Ready Date (ORD). Nur Muhammad Asis, from the inaugural cohort, is the first player from the LCS Football Academy to sign a professional contract with the Sailors, paving the way for many more to follow in his footsteps. 

Overseas exposure 

Thanks to the academy’s partnerships and strong relationships with top foreign clubs such as Feyenoord, Borussia Dortmund, and Atletico Madrid, Sailors trainees are afforded unique opportunities to participate in training and exchanges across Europe.

In 2024, all LCS Football Academy teams from Under-13 and above are travelling to Europe for either training camps or tournaments. They will visit countries such as Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, and Portugal.

LCS Football Academy Technical Director, Luka Lalić, said, “We place a strong emphasis on our youth players measuring up against their European counterparts, from their game understanding to the tactical, technical and physical aspects, as well as their responsibilities off the football pitch. We want them to see for themselves what the benchmark is, so they know what to work on and what they should aspire to become. 

“We have excellent relationships with several top European clubs, and we want to continue leveraging these connections to provide our trainees with the best possible exposure, helping them become top-level professionals in the future.”

Building a pipeline for Singapore

The Sailors are also committed to consistently producing players for the national youth squads. At last year’s Lion City Cup final, eight out of the 11 players who started for the National Development Centre’s Under-15 squad were from the LCS Football Academy — a testament to the club’s strong development efforts and pivotal role in boosting football in the country.

LCS Football Academy General Manager Tan Li Yu stressed, “Ultimately, our goal is to help the national cause and build up a strong pool of players who can go on to play in the Singapore national team in the future. 

“We firmly believe that there are plenty of budding football talents in the country. Our aim is to remove the obstacles or boundaries that prevent them from reaching their full potential. We are fully committed to our vision of being an elite development hub and will leave no stone unturned to help our youth players.”

With players like 16-year-old Nathan Mao and Asis already establishing themselves in the club’s first team squad, the Sailors remain dedicated to advancing their youth development efforts, and will strive to help the academy achieve the highest grade: Three-Star.

Reaffirming the Sailors’ commitment to youth development in the coming years, Li said, “We’re humbled by this Two-Star accreditation, and it only strengthens our determination to nurture the next generation of football stars in Singapore. We will continue to work extremely hard to develop the infrastructure and capabilities needed to attain the Three-Star grading in the coming years.”