Adam Swandi was given the prestigious No. 10 jersey at Albirex Niigata earlier this year but while the gesture may have been a sign of a warm Japanese welcome, the player grew into the shirt as the season wore on - and the club wants more of the same next year.
Adam and goalkeeper Shahrul Rayyan are the first players to sign for the Japanese Singapore Premier League club, who this year claimed every trophy on offer for the third straight season.
"We want to have more Singaporean players, so we can contribute more directly to Singapore and its national team," said Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga, on the sidelines of the club's season-ending party at club sponsor Gain City's Sungei Kadut premises last night.
Adam was absent - he was training with the Lions - but his on-field improvement was one of the highlights for Korenaga, who now wants to more than double the number of Singaporeans at the club.
"We're looking at four players, and maybe also bringing Singaporean coaching staff on board too. We have spoken to the Football Association of Singapore about this, and they welcome the move. We are now thinking about how we can do this," he added.
Adam was sent to Albirex's parent club who ply their trade in the Japanese second tier for trials, and something may yet come of that.
"There is a big difference in standards, but it is clear that Adam has big potential, and maybe after one year there, he can reach it. We will hear back from Japan in November or December (on whether Adam will move to Japan)," added Korenaga, keeping his cards close to his chest.
Albirex's contribution to Singapore football has come more than just in terms of work at the elite level. It has worked closely with the community around its Jurong East headquarters. This is the sixth year of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Yuhua Community Sports Club (CSC), and in addition to coaching support for Yuhua CSC's various football activities, Albirex has promised to donate $1 for every fan that comes through the turnstiles at its home games.
Last night, Korenaga presented a cheque of $21,273 to Yuhua CSC chairman Lim Chock Sing. It is the biggest amount to date, befitting of a season when Albirex broke another record: The White Swans are the first team in domestic football history to go an entire season - 24 matches this term - unbeaten.
Korenaga, 41, could not speak definitively of the make-up of the Albirex team next year as it is entirely dependent on regulations of the league that have yet to be firmed up. However, he promised one thing: The club will continue to approach things with the same spirit of excellence.
"The aim is simple," he said. "Albirex must maintain the quality that we have shown in Singapore football."