Home in safe & Sunny hands

Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 35, spent four seasons at Thai League 2 side Army United. He is among the new faces at Home United, which include Kaishu Yamazaki, Shahdan Sulaiman, Gabriel Quak, Andy Pengelly as well as head coach Aurelio Vidmar. ST FILE PH
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, 35, spent four seasons at Thai League 2 side Army United. He is among the new faces at Home United, which include Kaishu Yamazaki, Shahdan Sulaiman, Gabriel Quak, Andy Pengelly as well as head coach Aurelio Vidmar. ST FILE PHOTO

Veteran goalie rejoins new-look Protectors after Thai club dissolved, targets SPL title

The new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season is still months away but Hassan Sunny has already been hitting the gym to get ready.

Widely regarded as one of Singapore football's model professionals, the 35-year-old goalkeeper did not waste any time after the Thai League 2 season ended in October.

He secured a two-year deal with Home United, which starts next month, and has already set his sights on winning the league title.

"I want to do everything I can to prolong my career. This means taking care of my food and making sure I'm fit and healthy," said Hassan, who also had a one-season stint with the Protectors in 2017.

"If (former Singapore internationals) Aleksandar Duric and Daniel Bennett can play to their 40s, why not me?

"If it is possible, I still want to play in Thailand in the future."

But a return to his former club - Thai League 2 side Army United - is out of the question after the outfit was dissolved almost overnight.

Three weeks ago, Thai daily the Bangkok Post reported that Thailand's army chief General Apirat Kongsompong, who is also the club's chairman, suspended the football team because of their continued poor performance. This, after they had missed out on promotion by six points last season.

Hassan said: "I found out the news from social media. It was really unexpected for a team with more than 100 years of history.

"I'm thankful that Home United came in with an offer that I couldn't refuse, but I'm also sad and worried for some of my Army teammates who are left without a club."

Nevertheless, he can look back on four seasons (2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019) at the Bangkok-based side with a smile.

He said: "The culture there is different and the people there are too nice. I was very close to the kitman and I just received a text asking for my address so that his mother can send me a 'thank you' gift. They are not well-to-do but are so generous, which is really touching.

"Football-wise, I learnt to be more encouraging because Thai players don't like to be shouted at. Also, as an import, all eyes were on me and at no point did I slacken."

AMBITIOUS GOALS

Home have also made the signings to be a more attacking side and I hope we can work well together and win something.

HASSAN SUNNY, who spent the 2017 season with Home United and believes the club have a good chance of ending their league title drought, which stretches back to 2003.

He will have no time to ease off this season either, with Home sending a huge signal of their intent with their off-season signings.

Besides Hassan, they have recruited Japanese defender Kaishu Yamazaki, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman and forward Gabriel Quak, three of the SPL's top performers last season, as well as 22-year-old Australian striker Andy Pengelly.

At the helm will be former Australia captain Aurelio Vidmar, who had coached the national Under-20 and U-23 teams, and took the Socceroos for one game as caretaker.

The 52-year-old was the A-League's 2008/09 Coach of the Year, and made history by guiding Adelaide United to the 2008 AFC Champions League final, becoming the first Australian team to do so.

Hassan said: "I played against his Bangkok Glass team when I first joined Army and even then he likes his team to attack.

"Home have also made the signings to be a more attacking side and I hope we can work well together and win something.

"I'm really looking forward to the reunion with Shahdan, Izzdin Shafiq, and my batchmate Shahril Ishak, whom I have not played alongside at club level since we were in the Young Lions in 2005.

"But for a start, we have to concede fewer goals and win more games. With Singapore having a Champions League group-stage slot in 2021, it is a good target and motivation to help Home win the league for the first time since 2003."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2019, with the headline 'Home in safe & Sunny hands'. Print Edition | Subscribe