Football: I'm happy to see their level of commitment, says new Lions coach after first training

New national football coach Takayuki Nishigaya (centre) at his first training session at Geylang Field on May 26, 2022. ST PHOTO: EUGENE GOH

SINGAPORE - As dawn broke and the rooster crowed around the Geylang Lorong 12 pitch early Thursday (May 26) morning, it was an appropriate backdrop for a new era of Singapore football and Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya's first training session.

The Japanese are known for their efficiency and precision and Nishigaya was no different, arriving with assistant coaches Nazri Nasir and Koichiro Iizuka at 6am to set up, as 14 players streamed in about 45 minutes later for the 7.30am practice.

Eleven came from two clubs, Lion City Sailors and Young Lions, as both are not involved in this week's Singapore Premier League. The international football window starts on Monday.

They were joined by three overseas-based players - Selangor's Safuwan Baharudin as well as Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi from Thailand's BG Pathum - and allowed Nishigaya an early look at the core of his team ahead of the June 8-14 Asian Cup qualifiers.

The team fly on Sunday to Abu Dhabi where they face Kuwait in a friendly next Wednesday.

Nishigaya, 49, said via a translator: "This is more like a recovery session for me to know some of the players' characters, and I'm happy to see their level of commitment and how much they want to play for the national team."

Among the Lions, there was an air of expectancy about meeting their ringmaster for the first time. Banter and laughter punctuated the session which commenced after Nishigaya gave his opening address in English.

Singapore skipper Hariss Harun, 31, said: "It's been a month since his appointment and we were looking forward to see what he is like and what his ways are. It is important that we players buy into his methods and give him our full support.

"It is still early days, but it is clear he wants us to be more proactive with and without the ball."

During the 90-minute session, the Lions also played several team-bonding and ball-possession games. One of them involved kicking a smaller ball and throwing around a regular-sized football simultaneously to encourage the players to think faster about what their options and next move are.

While Nishigaya communicated mostly through a translator, the occasional shouts of "Quickly! Quickly!" suggested he knew which English words he wanted to prioritise. He later said: "We have big and important games ahead, and it is important to make the right decisions quicker on the pitch to gain an edge."

Young Lions forward Glenn Kweh, who was at his first senior national team call-up, already noted the difference. The 22-year-old said: "When I receive the ball here, the pressure from the defender comes a lot quicker. I need to adapt, think and play faster, which definitely helps improve my game."

Among the Lions, there was an air of expectancy about meeting their ringmaster for the first time. ST PHOTO: EUGENE GOH

At 10.30am, Nishigaya met the rest of his 27-man squad after they had completed their respective club training sessions.

Sailors midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman, 34, said: "My first impression is that he is someone with strong work ethics, and he expects that of us as well. He tried to communicate with us in English where he can, and told senior players like me to guide the younger ones.

"Our first interaction is a brief but positive one, and he said he will elaborate more on tactics when we have the full team in Abu Dhabi."

Upcoming matches

Friendly in Abu Dhabi

- June 1: Kuwait

Asian Cup Group F qualifiers in Bishkek

- June 8: Kyrgyzstan

- June 11: Tajikistan

- June 14: Myanmar

*The six group winners and five best runners-up advance to the 2023 Asian Cup

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