The Sailors’ adventure promises more in 2022: Chun-Liang

In this piece, Lion City Sailors’ Chief Executive, Chew Chun-Liang looks ahead to the new season, and the host of initiatives that are in the pipeline for Sailors’ fans.

It has been somewhat quiet on the local football front since the AFF Suzuki Cup ended on an emotional note for our Lions last December, as we now all await the start of the 2022 season. 

We are wildly appreciative of the heartwarming support we saw in stands across stadiums in the country last year, and behind the scenes, we have been hard at work. At the Sailors, we are determined to do more, and do better for football fans in our country. 

Memberships: The Crew 

We are planning a gesture to show our appreciation for fans who have stood alongside the Sailors even before we were crowned Champions of Singapore, and we’ll leave it at that for now. 

From here on in, our revamped membership, The Crew, will be renewed annually and we are continually looking to bring more value to our Crew.

The Crew will receive an exclusive membership pack – we’ll leave its contents as a bit of a surprise for those of you who will come on board – and also discounts on match tickets and a host of Sailors’ merchandise that will be rolled out soon. Membership will open doors to exclusive perks with our partners as well as members’ events that – pandemic safety measures notwithstanding – are aimed to be peppered across the season. 

Only members of The Crew will be allowed to ballot for a Sailors season pass that will guarantee a seat for all of our home games in the domestic football calendar. 

While we continue to work to bring on board partners who can bring added value to our Crew, we are equally determined to provide value ourselves and make this membership affordable. 

Season Pass: A front row seat to the Sailors’ adventure 

Singapore Premier League clubs will be allowed to welcome 1,000 fans to the stadium this year – under prevailing safe management policies – and for the season pass holders of The Crew, a seat will be guaranteed for all home games for domestic football competitions we will host at the Jalan Besar Stadium. 

In addition to that, season pass holders will have early access to tickets for Sailors’ away games. 

In 2022, we will make our maiden appearance in the season-ending Singapore Cup which will throw up a few more matches for fans – hopefully with a cup final included – and we believe the season pass provides good value to our loyal Crew who have already shown how inspiring they can be from the stands. 

Aiming for a smoother, more entertaining, overall experience

Below the deck, we are exploring various options to improve the matchday experience for local football fans, starting with online ticketing. The vision is to have fans glide seamlessly through the turnstiles and to their seat, where they are enthralled by music and activities on the pitch and around the stadium. 

We will announce details as soon as we are ready to, but one thing’s for sure, us Sailors are working our socks off to bring fans more value, and a more enjoyable experience of Singapore football. 

While Covid-19 safety measures continue to be important to ensure that we can all keep our loved ones safe, we will continue to find ways to improve the matchday experience while working within regulations, because you – the Singapore football fan – are at the heart of everything we do, and we would love to have more of you in the stands as we drive towards a more vibrant Singapore football scene. 

The Sailors and I would love to welcome you for the next leg of the Sailors’ adventure – come join us for the 2022 SPL season!


Nur Adam and Saifullah continue to fly the flag with U23s

After making their respective debuts at Asean’s premier football tournament when they turned out for the senior Lions at last year’s Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, Nur Adam Abdullah and Saifullah Akbar return to international action with the Republic’s Under-23s.

Nazri Nasir has called up a 29-man provisional squad for the 14-26 February AFF Under-23 Championship in Cambodia. The final squad of 23 will be named before the team’s departure on 12 February.

The 11 participating teams were split into three groups, with Singapore facing Thailand and Vietnam in the three-team Group C.

Nur Adam enjoyed a breakthrough 2021 at left-back, and was named the Singapore Premier League’s (SPL) Young Player of the Year, while attacking midfielder Saifullah – the SPL’s Young Player of the Year in 2020 – ended the year with four goals and three assists.

Singapore’s U23s finished as runners-up in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2005, behind winners Thailand.


Fans, prepare for more of everything in the 2022 SPL season

The Lion City Sailors will kick off the 2022 domestic football season on 19 February, taking on Albirex Niigata (S) in the AIA Community Shield, in a year that promises Singapore the most football action witnessed in the Covid-19 era. 

The Community Shield is a standalone fixture that serves as the curtain-raiser of the 27th season of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season that will be played over four rounds instead of the three-round format witnessed in 2021. 

The league explained that the increase in number of matches is designed to inject a higher level of competition, while also allowing players to earn more minutes on the pitch.

The Sailors will start the defence of their SPL crown on 27 Feb, against Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium, with Geylang International, Tampines Rovers and Albirex to come in a thrilling March fixture calendar. 

More players 

Fans will be able to witness more players taking to the pitch as well, with the league allowing clubs to register 20 players for each matchday. There will be nine substitutes allowed on a team’s bench – up from seven last season – with clubs permitted to make up to five substitutions per match.

More tournaments 

The Singapore Cup will return in 2022, with the tournament slated to commence on 25 October. The 23rd edition of the tournament will see teams competing in a single-round group stage. The top two teams in each of the two groups will then progress to the semi-finals, which will be played over two legs, in a home and away knockout format.

This will be the Sailors’ maiden Singapore Cup campaign, with the tournament returning after a pandemic-enforced absence in 2021 and 2020, the year the club was established. 

More leeway for coaches 

The 2022 SPL season will see the youth quota that was introduced in 2018 lowered. Clubs were originally required to field a minimum of three Singaporean Under-23 players for the entire duration of the first half in every SPL match in 2018, a number that will be reduced to one in the 2022 season.  

While spectator figures will remain capped at 1,000 as it was in 2021, with spectators required to produce proof of vaccinations according to existing guidelines, SPL fans will continue to be able to watch every match LIVE on broadcast via Singtel TV and StarHub TV as well as live streaming online via the SPL Facebook page and YouTube channel.


Pedro Henrique signs for the Sailors

The Lion City Sailors have moved to strengthen its squad with the acquisition of Pedro Henrique ahead of the 2022 season that will see the club make its debut in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL).

The 1.90 metre defender joins from Vitoria Guimaraes for an undisclosed fee and will join the club on a three-year contract. Henrique, 29, joins fellow Brazilian Diego Lopes at the Sailors, and will look to form a defensive partnership with Singapore internationals the likes of Amirul Adli, Tajeli Salamat and Hariss Harun.

Henrique was a target for Portuguese giants FC Porto in the summer of 2017, a year that saw Vitoria finish fourth in the Portuguese top tier, and runners-up in the Portuguese Cup, behind Benfica. Then aged 23, Henrique enjoyed a breakthrough year that also saw him win the league’s fairplay award, after finishing the season with just one yellow card in 33 matches.

He brings aerial prowess to the Sailors backline, along with positional sense and a composure that complements his ability to distribute the ball from the back, and will look to add more steel to a defence that conceded only 21 goals in the 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.

The Sailors’ tight defence was a key facet of a season that saw the club win their first league title, with only second-placed Albirex Niigata (19) conceding fewer goals all season.

“I wish I could’ve been part of the team when the club won the league last year, but I’m excited about everything else that the club is doing off the field as well – the Sailors project is very ambitious, and I’m delighted to be able to play a part in making that vision a reality,” said Henrique, who has tasted Asian football with Saudi Arabian side Al-Wehda in 2021.

“I’m looking forward to working with Diego, and club head coach, Kim Do-hoon who won the ACL as recently as 2020. With so many of the squad having international experience with the Singapore team, I’m confident we will grow to be a team to be reckoned with.”

The club has also followed up its SPL title with the signing of Korean international Kim Shin-wook, a move that has kept the flames of interest in local football burning in the off season, with its acquisition of Henrique underlining its intentions of being competitive in the ACL.

“Pedro comes with qualities that will help the team improve even further. We are very clear that we must work to become competitive at the Asian level, and I’m confident that Pedro will help us on our journey,” said Kim.

“I can’t wait to get started with the team in 2022. With the likes of Shin-wook and Pedro, along with the local players we have brought on board, I believe we will be more effective in improving our football.”


Below the Deck: Adi Saleh: There is no substitute for hard work

It was on an innocuous day more than two decades ago, when he was just starting out in his professional footballing career at the now-defunct outfit SAFFC, that Adi Saleh learnt a valuable life lesson that he continues to hold close to his heart.

Then still a student at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Adi found himself with time to spare after finishing his classes early that day, and so arrived at the Jurong Stadium two hours before SAFFC were due to train.

After changing into his goalkeeping gear, Adi decided to kill time by resting on the massage bed in the SAFFC dressing room.

Barely half-an-hour later, Adi was roused from his slumber by a loud, commanding voice from across the room.

“Adi! What are you doing here?” shouted Vincent Subramaniam, who was then in charge of SAFFC.

After Subramaniam was apprised of the situation, the former Lions coach directed a simple question to Adi.

“Do you want to succeed as a professional footballer?” Subramaniam asked.

When Adi replied in the affirmative, Subramaniam said: “Then you should be out on the field training now! It doesn’t matter that the rest of the players are not here, you can train by yourself, do some drills on your own! The extra effort that you put in will help you get better as a player.”

From that day on, Adi made it a habit to put in more hours on the training ground than was required, as he sought to become the best goalkeeper he could be.

More importantly, Subramaniam’s words helped Adi realise that there is no substitute for hard work in the quest for success.

That mantra – which all the top players in the world like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Mo Salah live by – served Adi well, as he went on to enjoy a fulfilling playing career that saw him turn out for the likes of Home United, Balestier Khalsa, and even the Singapore National Football team.

“That lesson of giving extra in everything I do has helped me a lot in my career,” Adi mused. “It taught me that if you want something bad enough, you have to work hard for it. 

“There’s no shortcut…you cannot simply be good or work hard for just one day. It is the effort that you put in every single day that will count in the end.”

While Adi never forgot that life lesson, and continued to hold true to the value of hard work even after hanging up his gloves in 2008, it became especially relevant in 2020, when the Lion City Sailors became the first privatised football club in Singapore.

The 45-year-old had by then been the goalkeeping coach for Home United – the previous iteration of the Sailors – for nearly 10 years, but niggling injuries to his knee and ankle meant he was unable to perform his role at an optimum level.

The Sailors had no choice but to hire another goalkeeping coach to take over Adi, but the club were also determined to retain their long-serving employee, and so offered Adi the role of Video Analyst.

The newly-created job involves having to record and ‘code’ video clips of certain moments in live matches, which allows the head coach to conduct a more in-depth analysis after the game.

Adi elaborated: “We have a system that helps us code every moment of the game – for example, if we want to see how the team builds up play, we will start recording when the goalkeeper or defenders have the ball, and record all the way till we bring the ball to the final third, or lose possession. That way, the coach can see in the build-up what good moments led us to the final third, and what errors were made that caused us to lose possession.

“It also helps with the development of players. For example, the coach might want to take a closer look at Saifullah (Akbar) after a game, to see every moment that he touches the ball, along with the five seconds before and after he receives it. Once that clip is extracted, he can assess if Saifullah is moving at the right place at the right time, and that’s where he will make his assessment and recommendation to the player.

“At the end of the day, the coach wants the players to know what are the things they have done during the game that are good, and what are bad. It’s not to be critical of the players, but to help them and the team get better moving forward.”

While initially hesitant about embarking on a radically different career path, Adi ultimately decided to give it a go, with the belief that by working hard in his new role, he would be able to overcome any challenges that came his way.

“Having been a goalkeeping coach for some time, it was not easy for me to suddenly change my job scope. The role of video analyst is also quite new in Singapore football, so there wasn’t really anyone I could learn from or go to for advice. In addition, we had a new coach from Australia (Aurelio Vidmar), and I did have doubts over whether I could meet his expectations,” Adi admitted.

“But I learnt from my playing days that I had to do my best no matter what the situation is. At the end of the day, I trusted my belief that if you work hard, the results will show.”

Two seasons later, Adi has absolutely no regrets at having taken the leap of faith.

An integral part of the backroom team, Adi – who credits former coach Aurelio for teaching him a lot on the job – has since been empowered by Sailors’ coach Kim Do-hoon to conduct post-match presentations with the team, where he goes through the past game to highlight and analyse its key moments.

“Coach Kim maintains an open line of communication with me, and guides me along his vision, so it’s easy for me to progress,” said Adi. “Honestly, it’s thanks to the help and advice I’ve received from coaches Kim and Aurelio over the past two seasons that has enabled me to become a better video analyst.”

Having witnessed first-hand the Sailors’ rapid improvement and transformation into Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions this year, Adi is excited at what the future holds for the club, especially with regard to their participation in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) next year.

“I feel blessed and honoured to have been a part of history with the Sailors’ SPL title win,” the father of three said. “But that is just the beginning. Everyone at the club understands that there is a big responsibility on us to be better, and that we have to prepare to play at a whole new level in the ACL next year.

“It’s not going to be easy, so we have to work hard during pre-season. But we are determined not to go there to make up the numbers – we want to compete, because we know that the club is carrying the flag for Singapore in the tournament.”

“How we fare will boil down to our mentality and motivation, because I believe we have the talent already. But having been at the club for quite some time now, I know that every player in the team is striving to be the best,” he said. 

 “So, I’m confident that we can go far, and I’m looking forward to achieving greater things with the Sailors.”


Sailors’ AFC Champions League opponents revealed

The Lion City Sailors will face opposition from China, Japan, and either Korea or Thailand in their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) debut later this year. This was revealed earlier this afternoon (17 January) at the ACL draw conducted virtually in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. 

The Sailors, 2021 Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions, are placed in Group F (East Zone) along with reigning Chinese Super League (CSL) champions Shandong Taishan, Japanese Emperor’s Cup holders Urawa Red Diamonds and the winner of the playoff between K League 1 second runners-up Daegu FC and Thai powerhouse Buriram United. 

The 2022 edition of Asia’s flagship club competition continues in the 40-team expanded format introduced last year, with both the East and West regions featuring five groups of four teams. The five group winners and the best three runner-ups from each region will then advance into the Round of 16. 

Group-stage matches will be played on a double round-robin basis in centralised venues between April 15 to May 1, with the Round of 16, quarter-finals and semi-finals – all single-leg – scheduled for August. The grand final will be played over two legs in February 2023. 

The Sailors face a challenging group, against teams who have featured in the ACL on numerous occasions in the past.  

Shandong – China’s defending league and cup champions – boast several China internationals, as well as former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini in their ranks. Fellaini will come up against a familiar foe in Sailors’ midfielder Hariss Harun, who was skipper of the Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) side that suffered narrow 1-0 and 2-1 losses to Shandong in the 2019 group stages. 

Urawa have ACL pedigree, having won the competition twice in 2007 and 2017 as well as finishing runners-up in 2019. Amongst their squad is a seasoned Japanese international in Hiroki Sakai, who returned to play domestically in Japan after almost a decade away in Europe with Hannover 96 and Marseille. 

Daegu reached the ACL Round of 16 in 2021, while Buriram have recently re-signed Theerathon Bunmathan to add to their array of Thai stars including Narubadin Weerawatnodom, Supachai Chaided and Suphanat Mueanta and are currently atop the Thai League 1 standings. 

The Sailors can count on the expertise of head coach Kim Do-hoon, who led Ulsan Hyundai to the 2020 ACL title, while the addition of experienced forward Kim Shin-wook, who won the competition twice in 2012 and 2016 with Ulsan and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors respectively, will also come in handy. 

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of testing ourselves against the best in Asia, even as we continue to strengthen and build capabilities at the club,” said Sailors Chief Executive, Chew Chun-Liang. 

“Coach Kim and the team are under no illusions about the task that lies ahead in the ACL, but plans have been made, and the team are working hard so we can fly the Singapore flag with pride when the competition kicks off.” 


New year, same old drive: Sailors class of 2022 put best foot forward

Some three months ago, gold and blue confetti floated down from the Jalan Besar sky and fans partied in the stands as the Lion City Sailors lifted their first Singapore Premier League (SPL) trophy on 10 October 2021. 

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-23 Asian Cup qualifiers and the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup that subsequently took place in the Lion City whetted the appetite of local football fans, with the focus now shifting back to the domestic club scene as the Sailors look to retain their crown and remain kingpins of Singapore football in 2022.

In the SPL’s 26-year history, only three teams – Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S) – have retained the title and the Sailors will be out to join that exclusive club. They will face stiff challenges with other clubs strengthening their roster in a bid to vie for the championship. 

Albirex’s signing of former Japanese international Tadanari Lee has made waves, but it is not just the usual suspects who could challenge this term. The arrival of new head coach Akbar Nawas seems to have sparked a revolution at Balestier Khalsa, while Geylang International have an ex-Major League Soccer (MLS) player Vincent Bezecourt in their ranks, and Tanjong Pagar United have signed Khairul Nizam to partner his brother, Khairul Amri, upfront. 

The Sailors can ill afford to rest on their laurels as they resumed training for the new season on 5th January, with the national team players who were away on Suzuki Cup duty returning five days later. 

Continuity continues to be key for the club, with four players – namely club captain and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, attackers Song Ui-young, Hafiz Nor and Haiqal Pashia – handed deserved contract extensions for 2022. 

Hassan, who turns 38 in April, has led the Sailors exemplarily and is still going strong, turning in impressive displays for Singapore at the Suzuki Cup, while Song – who similarly impressed for the Lions – finished off the 2021 campaign with a flourish, scoring four goals in the last three matches of the season. 

Hafiz is always a livewire down the right flank and he provided some notable contributions – including a mazy run and cross to set up Stipe Plazibat for the equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Hougang United last August. 

The 23-year-old Pashia truly came into his own as the 2021 season wore on – who can forget that long-range scorcher against Tanjong Pagar? – and is beginning to show his full potential. 

In addition to players on long-term contracts like Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman and Diego Lopes, the re-signing of this quartet provides a sturdy platform for the Sailors to excel in 2022. 

Three new arrivals have also come onboard in the form of Izwan Mahbud, M. Anumanthan and Kim Shin-wook. Izwan’s arrival means the club now has two steady and experienced pairs of hands in goal, while Anu – one of the finest defensive midfielders in the country – will add steel to the Sailors’ engine room. 

Perhaps the biggest draw came in the signing of South Korean international Shin-wook, who brings AFC Champions League (ACL) pedigree – he has won the tournament twice, first with Ulsan Hyundai in 2012 and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in 2016. Alongside coach Kim Do-hoon who led Ulsan to the 2020 ACL title, their presence and experience in Asian club football’s biggest stage will put the Sailors in good stead as the club prepares for its maiden ACL campaign this April. 

With two more foreign signings still to come, Sailor fans have much to look forward to.

It may be a new year, but the Sailors are bringing the same hunger and ambitious approach to invigorate Singapore football. 


Rudy joins Balestier on year-long loan

Lion City Sailors goalkeeper Rudy Khairullah has joined Balestier Khalsa on loan for the entirety of the 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.

The 27-year-old is gifted with safe hands and great reflexes, and was considered one of the nation’s top young goalkeepers when he burst onto the scene in 2012. The former Singapore Under-23 goalkeeper joined Home United – the previous iteration of the Sailors – in 2017, after stints at the now-defunct Gombak United, and Young Lions.

Rudy rose to become Home’s first-choice goalkeeper in 2018 and played a starring role in the club’s successful run in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, with the team being crowned AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal champions – the first time a Singapore club won an AFC title.

Injuries limited Rudy’s playing time in 2019, but he has demonstrated his ability at the Sailors in the two years since, and will now look to cement his reputation at the Tigers.

“Rudy has been a great presence in the Sailors’ dressing room, but it will be helpful for him to go out on loan and get some game time as he looks to develop his game,” said Sailors’ General Manager Badri Ghent.

“We have every confidence that Rudy will do well at Balestier, with the professionalism and technical abilities that he brings to the table.”


Izwan and Anu come aboard

The Lion City Sailors have moved to further strengthen their squad ahead of the 2022 Singapore Premier League season, with the signing of goalkeeper, Izwan Mahbud, and midfielder, M Anumanthan. 

The players are both Singapore internationals, and were on duty with the Lions at the recently concluded Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2020, contributing to Singapore’s first appearance at the knockout stages of the tourney since 2012. 

The 31-year-old Izwan is still fondly remembered as the Lions’ hero in Singapore’s famous 0-0 draw with Asian giants, Japan, at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Saitama. Izwan made 18 saves in that game, with Japanese fans raving over his “God-like” performance. The goalkeeper joins from SPL rivals Hougang United on a two-year contract, and will see a robust challenge for the Sailors’ no.1 spot with fellow Lion Hassan Sunny. 

Anu returns to domestic football with the Sailors after a season north of the Causeway with Kedah Darul Aman, finishing second in the Malaysia Super League, behind giants Johor Darul Ta’zim. The combative midfielder was a key part of Home United’s – the former iteration of the Sailors – crowning as AFC Cup Asean Zone champions in 2018. 

“It’s fantastic to return to Singapore with the Sailors, and I’m looking forward to achieving great things with the club – and I’m confident that we can,” said the 27-year-old Anu, who joins on a three-year contract.  

“I’ve played with several of the players here, either at club level or in the national team, and I’m certain we’ll get comfortable quickly, and play attractive football to entertain fans and achieve results, like the club managed last year.” 

Izwan was similarly positive of the team dynamic in the Sailors’ Class of 2022, and he asserts the stage is set for a further improvement of standards across the club.  

“I’m relishing the challenge for the no.1 spot with Hassan, I’m certain we will drive each other as hard as we do when we’re on duty with the national team,” said the custodian who spent three years in Thai football with Nongbua Pitchaya, Trat and Samut Prakan City.

“I’ve had conversations with players who speak with a lot of excitement about the way the club trains and the attitude that the players approach the sessions, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in as we aim to bring success to the club and to Singapore football.” 

Sailors’ head coach Kim Do-hoon is thrilled at the prospect of the increasing intensity of competition at training sessions as the club prepares for its maiden Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) adventure in 2022. 

“Izwan and Anu will need a bit of a break after their contributions to the Singapore national team at the AFF Suzuki Cup, and I’m looking forward to them returning to training. I’m confident their presence will help push the rest of the squad to be even better,” said the man who led the club to its first SPL title last season. 

Kim masterminded Ulsan Hyundai’s ACL triumph in 2020, and he will bring that experience to the table when the Sailors make their ACL bow, with new foreign signing, Korean international Kim Shin-wook leading the attack.  

“We will face some of the best teams in Asia, and to be competitive at that level, we must continue to improve, and Shin-wook will help our cause,” said the 51-year-old.

“We are still a work in progress, but I’m confident that with the commitment of the team – and the extra drive that players like Izwan and Anu bring – we will continue to get better.”