Football: White swansong for Wataru?

Albirex Niigata, who swept the three domestic titles including the Singapore Premier League crown, dominated last night's individual awards, with Kazuaki Yoshinaga (left) named Coach of the Year, Wataru Murofushi (second from left) the Player of the
Albirex Niigata, who swept the three domestic titles including the Singapore Premier League crown, dominated last night's individual awards, with Kazuaki Yoshinaga (left) named Coach of the Year, Wataru Murofushi (second from left) the Player of the Year and Adam Swandi (right) the Young Player of the Year. Tampines Rovers' Zulfadhmi Suzliman won the Mitre Goal of the Year.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Albirex midfielder is Player of the Year and likely to leave club, like his three predecessors

Singapore professional football has never quite seen a powerhouse like Albirex Niigata and, once again, the Japanese club proved their dominance by sweeping the top individual awards at the Football Association of Singapore's annual awards ceremony last night.

Midfielder Wataru Murofushi was named the 2018 Player of the Year while his colleagues, Kazuaki Yoshinaga (Coach) and Adam Swandi (Young Player) claimed the other honours after an unbeaten Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign that also yielded the Community Shield and Singapore Cup.

In a further show of Albirex's firm grip on local football, Murofushi's win at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre marks the fourth straight year that the top individual accolade has gone to an Albirex player.

And, like previous years, it appears that the season's top footballer will leave the club. Kento Nagasaki (2017), Atsushi Kawata (2016) and Fumiya Kogure (2015) all left the club after being handed the accolade.

Midfielder Nagasaki is now plying his trade with Thai second-tier club Thai Honda, while forward Kawata spent the last two seasons with Albirex's parent club in Japan. Kogure has played for Hougang United and Geylang International.

Murofushi, a sports science graduate who played for Juntendo University in Chiba last year, said: "I hope to be able to play in the United States, Australia or Canada as the standard there is higher and I also want to improve my English.

"This is my first year as a professional. Now, I feel more responsible for the results. There are good teams here like Tampines Rovers and Home United and it was not too easy for us to win."

  • FAS AWARDS NIGHT 2018: ROLL OF HONOUR

  • GREAT EASTERN PLAYER OF THE YEAR

    Wataru Murofushi (Albirex Niigata)

    HYUNDAI YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

    Adam Swandi (Albirex)

    RHB COACH OF THE YEAR

    Kazuaki Yoshinaga (Albirex)

    MITRE GOAL OF THE YEAR

    Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Tampines Rovers)

    RHB TOP SCORER

    Shuhei Hoshino (Albirex)

    SINGAPORE POOLS FAIR PLAY

    Albirex Niigata

    POLAR REFEREE OF THE YEAR

    Nathan Chan Rong De

    HYUNDAI ASSISTANT REFEREE OF THE YEAR

    Ronnie Koh Min Kiat

    POLAR STORY OF THE YEAR

    Gabriel Tan, FOX Sports Asia

    GREAT EASTERN PHOTO OF THE YEAR

    Andy Pascua, Sport Singapore

Special awards for their contributions to Singapore football were also given to Fahrudin Mustafic, the Tampines and Lions midfield hardman who retired at the end of this season, and former Tanjong Pagar United chairman Edward Liu.

As the FAS seeks greater inclusion under its umbrella, awards were also handed out to the Women's Premier League, second-tier Women's National League and the amateur National Football League Divisions 1 and 2.

Two young Singaporeans were also in the limelight in a year when the inaugural SPL intensified youth development by mandating that all local clubs have six Under-23 players on their rosters and start with three of them in every match.

Adam's improvement after a season with the White Swans saw the 22-year-old follow in the footsteps of former Lions like Indra Sahdan (2000, 2001), Noh Alam Shah (2002) and Khairul Amri (2008) in being named the best youngster.

The forward, who was on trial at Albirex's parent club last month, will know by next month if he will join the Japanese J2 League side next term.

He said of his season: "It wasn't easy at first (joining Albirex) but I managed to conquer it. This is the most progress I've ever made in one season and this has given me the motivation to work harder.

"As an attacker, I used to neglect the defensive side of the game but I am in a hardworking team now. Every one has to be selfless and, if one does not put in the effort, he will be substituted."

Tampines attacking midfielder Zulfadhmi Suzliman earned the nod for the Goal of the Year for his swerving and dipping drive in a 4-3 defeat by Albirex.

Admitting that he does think about his special strike almost every day, the 22-year-old international said: "When I got the ball, I thought I would cut in and cross but nobody was there. So I took my coach's (Jurgen Raab) advice during training and tried to shoot.

"The U-23 rule meant that there are more chances for youngsters to show what they are made of. The year has been great for me. I got a lot of playing time and got called up by the national team."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 14, 2018, with the headline 'White swansong for Wataru?'. Print Edition | Subscribe