Football: Stags sign Madhu to bolster backline

Madhu Mohana, one of Singapore's better performers at last month's Suzuki Cup, is looking for a "fresh start" with new club Tampines Rovers.
Madhu Mohana, one of Singapore's better performers at last month's Suzuki Cup, is looking for a "fresh start" with new club Tampines Rovers.ST FILE PHOTO

After trophy-less season, Tampines are also close to signing Japanese and Korean players

Hope springs eternal and even after a disappointing 2016, in which their star-studded squad finished empty-handed, Tampines Rovers are still able to recruit quality players as they seek to end their barren run.

Former English Premier League winger Jermaine Pennant's artistry will be missed but the Stags have moved to shore up their squad.

Joining the team for his first training session yesterday was Singapore defender Madhu Mohana, one of the Lions' better performers even as they crashed out of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup last month.

The five-time S-League champions are also close to adding a Japanese winger and a South Korean midfielder to their ranks.

On his new signing, Tampines head coach Akbar Nawas told The Straits Times: "He can play across the backline and is a threat from set-pieces. But what I really like about Madhu is his ability to turn defence into attack with his interceptions.

"He's good with the ball at his feet and is a great signing."

Madhu said: "One of the main reasons I joined Tampines was because of the continental competitions, so that I can compete at a higher level.

"Last season (with Warriors FC) wasn't my best and I'm looking forward to a fresh start.

"I hope to bring some aggression to the team and to win at least a title with Tampines."

Reflecting on the season past, Akbar, 42, said: "There are always areas you can do better in, especially with what happened in the Singapore Cup final. But it is what it is."

Tampines lost 0-2 to Albirex Niigata in the Cup final after an uncharacteristic howler by goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud. There were also questions raised over Akbar's decision to drop Pennant.

He added: "Then again, there are positives, like our attacking play, and we definitely want to build on that and hopefully it translates into more wins next year."

Meanwhile, Izzdin Shafiq, Afiq Yunos, Sufian Anuar, Fabian Kwok, Jordan Webb, Billy Mehmet and Pennant have all left the club.

The Stags are also on the lookout for a striker. A proposed move for Englishman Louis Clark did not pan out after the striker suffered a serious injury before signing.

The 26-year-old, who previously played in the Philippines for Kaya FC, suffered multiple bone spurs and severe cartilage tear after his ankle got stuck in a pothole while jogging back home in England.

For the Stags, there is little time to waste, with their first competitive fixture, the one-legged Asian Football Confederation Champions League qualifier against the Philippines' Global FC, taking place on Jan 24.

Both teams met in this year's Singapore Cup quarter-final, with the Stags winning 5-2 over two legs.

But Tampines could be without the dependable Hafiz Abu Sujad for the clash.

Hafiz, who scored once in each leg against Global, left for Thailand on Sunday for trials with Thai Premier League teams Sisaket FC and Big Bang Chula United.

Akbar said: "Hafiz is a quality player and will be missed but our policy has always been to support our players if they can play overseas. The gains for the player and Singapore football outweigh our loss.

"We hear Global FC will have a different squad from the one that faced us, so it's still too early to say. What we can do is to prepare fully and be as competitive as we can.

"Morale is high, and with support from (director of football excellence) Jita Singh, one of the biggest names in Singapore football who is mentoring the coaching staff, I'd say we are shaping up well for next season."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Stags sign Madhu to bolster backline'. Print Edition | Subscribe