Football: SPL's Albirex Niigata sign former Japan striker Tadanari Lee

Japan international forward Tadanari Lee is a proven winner with 11 caps and two international goals. PHOTO: TADANARI LEE/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - In their bid to wrest back the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title, Albirex Niigata have sealed their biggest signing in former Japan international forward Tadanari Lee.

The 36-year-old's contract with newly promoted J1 League club Kyoto Sanga had expired and the White Swans moved swiftly to sign the striker. The Straits Times understands that the one-year deal will see him earn about $12,000 a month.

Lee is a proven winner with 11 caps and two international goals, one of which was the memorable extra-time winner against Australia in the 2011 Asian Cup final.

He was also banging in goals in the double figures for Sanfrecce Hiroshima then and these exploits caught the attention of Southampton, who signed him in 2012.

Lee’s first goal for the Saints was a top-corner effort in a 4-0 win over Derby County that was named the club’s Goal of the Season that year. They went on to win promotion to the English Premier League, but injury limited him to just five more cup games and one more goal before he returned home.

In Japan, he has scored over 100 goals for six clubs and won the Asian Football Confederation Champions League with Urawa Red Diamonds in 2017 and the J1 League title with Yokohama F. Marinos in 2019.

The 1.82m left-footer hopes to bring his winning touch to Singapore, as he said: "Let's win together every title that we can win. I would like to devote all of myself to this club so that I can make a lot of people smile through football. I hope to receive your great support."

After privatising in 2020, Lion City Sailors signed Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes on a SPL-record $2.9 million transfer fee the next year, while also adding a host of Singapore internationals. They went on to win an exciting title race on the final day as Albirex finished second, two points behind.

The Sailors, backed by tech giant Sea Limited, have already announced a further boost to their ranks with the arrival of 33-year-old South Korea international striker Kim Shin-wook on another SPL-record $3 million salary package over three years.

While this is the first time in recent seasons that Albirex have signed a Japanese player well into his 30s, general manager Koh Mui Tee stressed that the club will retain their focus on youth even as they strive to regain the league crown which they won in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020.

With the exception of Lee, they have 18 Japanese players who are all under the age of 23. In addition, they also have five Singaporean players and hope to add a few more.

Koh added: "Tadanari has played on some of the biggest stages and we hope he will do well for us and also serve as a role model for aspiring footballers here.

"We want to wrest the title back and make the league more exciting with this signing, and such keen competition in the SPL will only bode well for Singapore football."

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