Albirex's target is still 'to win all the titles'

Defending champions Albirex (in blue), who lost 4-0 to Tampines Rovers during a pre-season friendly, will be hoping to find their way in the Singapore Premier League after a squad overhaul.
Defending champions Albirex (in blue), who lost 4-0 to Tampines Rovers during a pre-season friendly, will be hoping to find their way in the Singapore Premier League after a squad overhaul.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Among the 15 trophies on offer in local professional football since 2015, Albirex Niigata have won 13 of them, completing three straight clean sweeps since 2016 in an era of dominance never seen here.

But, before tonight's Community Shield curtain raiser, has the first signs of weakness appeared for the team that clinched the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title last year without losing a game?

Last week, Albirex were thumped 4-0 by Tampines Rovers in a pre-season friendly.

The defeat was notable as the White Swans had played a strong XI, barring new 2.05m forward Makito Hatanaka.

The club's new head coach Keiji Shigetomi said: "Tampines are a very strong team with many national players. They will be title contenders this year.

"Even though we lost 4-0, it was a very good lesson for us. I learnt more about my team and we will be ready for the Community Shield."

NEW CHALLENGES

Last season, we didn't lose any match, but we have only four members of that squad who are still with us. And we have (six) Singaporean players with us, it will be a more difficult challenge for us.

KEIJI SHIGETOMI, Albirex Niigata's new head coach, on the season ahead.

Albirex will meet SPL runners-up Home United tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium (6pm).

Shigetomi's men had won their other sparring matches (2-0 against Hougang United and 6-0 against the Singapore Under-18s), but face a tough task rebuilding after new league rules dictate that the Japanese club have to sign a minimum of four local players, and have to start with at least two every game.

Shigetomi said: "Our target is to win all the titles, but the team are new and we have to work very hard. Last season, we didn't lose any match, but we have only four members of that squad who are still with us.

"And we have (six) Singaporean players with us, it will be a more difficult challenge for us. But we will take one game at a time and not look too far."

From last year's all-conquering side, the White Swans have kept only midfielder Hiroyoshi Kamata and the defensive trio of Shuhei Sasahara, Kaishu Yamazaki and Kodai Sumikawa while Singaporeans Hyrulnizam Juma'at, Gerald Ang, Noor Akid, Firas Irwan, Zamani Zamri and Martens Daniel will don the orange jersey this season.

Shigetomi said: "The change in regulations affected our team a lot. The overall age of the squad has also been reduced.

"A lot of the players may not have the necessary experience yet. It will be a challenge."

As Albirex try to maintain their winning formula in the SPL, new Home coach Saswadimata Dasuki is plotting to end the Protectors' 16-year title drought.

He said: "Our target is to win the (league) title, but we know that Tampines and Albirex are very strong and Hougang (United) have beefed up their squad.

"It's not going to be easy, but the target is there. We finished second last year and we want to take one step further this year."

Home had also conducted an efficient recruitment drive, snapping up former Albirex forward and SPL Young Player of the Year Adam Swandi.

The 23-year-old striker will cast emotions aside when he faces his former team tonight.

Adam said: "It's a very difficult position for me because Albirex really groomed me into a better player and person.

"I want to thank them for the opportunity, but football is football, you go to different teams in different seasons.

"I now have to fight for the crest on my chest and I want to give 100 per cent to get the Community Shield."

Wang Meng Meng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2019, with the headline 'Albirex's target is still 'to win all the titles''. Print Edition | Subscribe