Kodai Tanaka looking to power the Sailors to success

A familiar foe will lace up for the Lion City Sailors in 2023. 

After a stunning 2022 campaign in which he terrorised opposition defences en route to winning the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title with Albirex Niigata (S) and claiming the Player of the Year award, Kodai Tanaka will now be part of the Sailors set-up which is looking to reclaim the SPL trophy next season. 

While he enjoyed his duels against the Sailors, the lethal forward is delighted to pull on the club’s white and blue shirt and spearhead its bid to achieve success at both domestic and regional level going forwards. 

“The Sailors were one of the teams in the SPL that I didn’t want to lose against. I was always very enthusiastic in Albirex vs Sailors games because those were big title-deciding matches in front of many supporters,” said Kodai, who spoke through a translator.  

“This club is trying to create something great in Singapore football so I’m very happy to be here and I am so looking forward to showing my talent with the team. Hopefully I can make the fans here happy with my performances and goals.”

Photo courtesy of Albirex Niigata (S)

He made a big splash in his first professional season in 2022, finishing as the league’s second-highest scorer with 33 goals to go with his 10 assists in 28 appearances, but the ambitious Kodai is setting his sights even higher with the Sailors. 

“I want to be a league champion again and I also want to win the Golden Boot because I didn’t win that last season. On top of that, I want to go one step further and do well in the ACL (Asian Football Confederation Champions League) – I trust my abilities to perform at an even higher level,” declared the Japanese national, who turned 23 last Friday (23 December). 

“At the same time, I know I’m not a complete player yet and one of the things I’m working on this coming season is to increase the pattern and variety of goals that I can score.”

With the quality ammunition that the Sailors have proven they can deliver for frontmen, Kodai has no doubt that he is in exactly the right place to propel his career to greater heights. 

“Having played against them so many times last season, I know what the players here can do. There’s no need to say how good Maxime Lestienne and Diego Lopes are, and there are also good signings in players like Shawal Anuar. All these are great players,” said Kodai, who was also the top scorer in the Singapore Cup with six goals.

“I’m a player who really values combination plays so I’m really excited to be linking up with them in 2023. They’ll help maximise my footballing ability and I’ll do the same to help them perform on the pitch.”

Kodai understandably attracted interest and offers from local and overseas clubs, but there was only one choice and he admitted there was no hesitation when the Sailors came calling. 

“The Sailors have a long-term vision of becoming a top club in Asian football and are laying down good foundations for success by investing in youth development, so it is a project that I very much want to be part of,” he asserted. 

Kodai’s steely determination to succeed stemmed mainly from his hardships and ‘painful experiences’ while he was trying to make his mark back home. 

“My playing style was not well-received in Japan and I suffered a lot there. I was not able to make a great impression and that almost led me to quitting football,” said the attacker, who came through the ranks of Yokohama F. Marinos’s youth team, and played at high school and university levels before coming to Singapore with Albirex. 

“I came here because I want to achieve my goal of becoming a professional footballer and I’m very hungry to show that I have what it takes to succeed in the game.”

Photo courtesy of Albirex Niigata (S)

Kodai already looks very much at home in Singapore despite just one year on the island, but he is under no illusions that it will be a bigger challenge for him next season. 

“First things first, I will need to learn English! I cannot speak much yet, but the club is helping me arrange for English lessons and I’m so excited to learn the language.” he professed. “I want to be fluent in English because I really enjoy talking to Singaporeans and I want to build a stronger bond with my new teammates. 

“It’s important to have chemistry and friendship both on and off the pitch – that’ll help us achieve success on the pitch and I cannot wait to get started with this new chapter in my career.”



Safe hands Zharfan unfazed by lofty Sailors expectations

When the opportunity to join the Lion City Sailors came knocking on his door, Zharfan Rohaizad did not feel the need to think twice as he jumped at it with both hands. 

A new signing from Tanjong Pagar United, the 25-year-old will be part of the Sailors’ goalkeeping department that will vie for honours in the 2023 campaign.   

“It’s always been a dream of mine to come to this club, the biggest club in Singapore for me. When I first got the call, it was a no-brainer that I agreed to be part of the Sailors family.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that and I’m ready to embark on this new adventure,” said the commanding 1.80-metre tall custodian. 

“I feel lucky to be here, training and playing alongside top players like Diego Lopes and Maxime Lestienne as well as my national team teammates, such as captain Hariss Harun and M. Anumanthan.”

Zharfan enjoyed a breakout 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season with Tanjong Pagar United, showing why he is one of the country’s up-and-coming custodians by making the highest number of saves (122) across the league. 

In comparison, Young Lions’ Ridhwan Fikri came in second with 25 saves fewer.

Looking to continue in the same vein, Zharfan vowed to push himself even more in the year ahead and has hinted that the best is yet to come for him.  

“After two seasons with Tanjong Pagar, I’m expecting more from myself and even higher targets to meet with the Sailors,” he admitted.

“There will also be added pressure that comes along with it, but I have always told myself that I need to be ready for whatever comes my way. Playing against the Sailors in the past was never easy but now that I’m here, I want to continue to be better and I’m thrilled to experience what’s to come.”

The chance to pit himself against top-level opposition in the 2023 Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) was another tantalising reason for Zharfan to come on board.

“With the Sailors playing in the ACL, this is the perfect platform for me to prove my credentials on the continental stage where tougher battles await,” noted Zharfan. “It’s a great way for me to showcase my abilities and motivate me to be closer to where I want to be in the future. It’s nice to know that my hard work has not gone unnoticed and that there are people out there who have been impressed.” 

A steady presence between the sticks, Zharfan is looking forward to the stiff competition in his quest to become the Sailors’ numero uno.

“Goalkeepers are always eyeing the number 1 spot in the team. There should be healthy competition too, as it should be in the goalkeeping department.

“It’s going to be a challenge with the competition, but I will do what it takes to be a regular starter in the first eleven,” he declared. 

“To be able to train at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre is also going to be an eye-opener for me, something that I’ve never experienced in my career so far.”

Zharfan has also vowed to give his all to delight the club’s 12th man.

“Shot-stopping is my strength and I hope to impress them through my performances for the club. There’s never a day I’ll stop working and you can expect me to give my 100% and even more,” he said. 

“I’m happy to be part of the set-up here and I look forward to seeing the support from Sailors’ fans in the season ahead.”



Chun-Liang steps down as Sailors Chief Executive

Chew Chun-Liang will step down after some two years as Chief Executive Officer of the Lion City Sailors, and will leave the club at the end of 2022. 

“Chun-Liang has served the Sailors with distinction and a sincere spirit, with the club hitting several milestones under his stewardship – and I must thank him for his service and for the genuine warmth he brought to the Sailors,” said club Chairman Forrest Li. 

“We have developed a great working relationship over the past two years, and I’m certain that I speak for all Sailors when I say that I’m sad to see him go. We respect Chun-Liang’s decision to leave the club, and we wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavours.”  

Chun-Liang signs off after a period of accelerated growth at a club that was founded only in 2020 as Singapore’s first privatised professional football club.

The Sailors blazed a trail in the sport here: from setting up the country’s first integrated football training facility at Mattar Road to putting in place a structured youth development pathway alongside the implementing of fan and community engagement protocols and an ever-improving Women’s programme. 

Hariss Harun is sad to have to say goodbye to Chun-Liang when the latter officially leaves the club, but the Sailors skipper is grateful for fond memories on the Sailors’ voyage thus far. 

“It was his openness and warmth that struck me the first time I spoke with Chun-Liang, and that never changed whether the team was on a high or going through a bad patch,” said the 32-year-old. 

“He would sometimes send encouraging messages to us players that would go along with a warm handshake when we would see each other in person – these little things make a difference. We really appreciate all that he’s done for the team, and wish him the best wherever he goes.” 

While Chun-Liang admitted that the last two years have gone by in the blink of an eye, the achievements and relationships fostered were well worth the effort.

“I’d like to offer my sincerest gratitude to Sailors’ fans and partners for their trust throughout my tenure as Chief Executive of the club; I’m humbled and honoured by their unwavering support, that is something that I will always carry with me,” said Chun-Liang.    

“I leave as a fan of the Sailors, and I take with me great memories, a sense of pride that I’ve contributed to the growth of the club – and I’m ready to take on new challenges.” 


Gritty Rusyaidi ready for Sailors adventure

Coming up against the Lion City Sailors in the past, Rusyaidi Salime would often be in awe of and be mesmerised by his opponents’ eye-catching style of attacking football. 

That will change in 2023 as he joins the Sailors from fellow Singapore Premier League (SPL) outfit Tanjong Pagar United.  

“I’m very excited, it’s a huge honour to be here. It’s a big club, the first to be privatised in Singapore with superb training facilities something every footballer needs to help them grow,” said the 24-year-old.

“I’ve spoken to my batchmates in the NFA (National Football Academy) and former teammates in Young Lions like Hami (Syahin), (Haiqal) Pashia, Mamat (Zulqarnaen Suzliman) and they only have good things to say about the club.

“There are also quality players both locally and internationally in our ranks and I can’t wait to actually start training with my new teammates and win trophies with them.” 

Having started out as a right-back, Rusyaidi has settled into the heart of midfield in recent years and will provide the Sailors engine room with extra bite. 

Of the firm belief that his move to the Sailors will help take his game to the next level, the former Singapore Under-23 international is confident training and playing with the best will boost his chances of a senior national team call-up. 

“As a footballer, playing at the highest level is something we want and being part of this team will help get me there,” said Rusyaidi, who made his professional debut in 2016. 

“I believe I have the right mentality to get into the national team and it’s something I hope to achieve. I will be as open-minded as possible and I can only get better playing alongside seasoned players like Hariss (Harun), Diego (Lopes) and Maxime (Lestienne). 

“It’s also a huge opportunity for me to play in the ACL (Asian Football Confederation Champions League) for the first time in my career and I am eager to show what I’m capable of.”

Rusyaidi added that he is relishing the opportunity to share the same dressing room with a player of Maxime’s stature – the Belgian winger was the top assist-maker in the 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season with 23 in an outstanding first year with the club. 

“I am looking forward to playing with Max, a technically gifted and speedy player. He’s also played at the top level with PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League so it’s going to be an eye-opener for me,” he added. 

Known for his robustness and being one who does not shirk from a challenge, the tenacious Rusyaidi cannot wait to get stuck in with the Sailors.

“I won’t back out of any challenges and you can expect me to be a tough yet fair player on the pitch. I will try my best to win every challenge as I possibly can and to stop my team from conceding goals,” he said. 

“I’m someone who always gives my 100% for the team. I will work hard for the club, the fans and my teammates let’s win something together in the season ahead.”


Shawal Anuar ready to make his mark with the Sailors

After scoring a career-high 11 Singapore Premier League (SPL) goals and inspiring Hougang United to their first-ever trophy in the form of the Singapore Cup in 2022, a new challenge awaits Shawal Anuar in the year ahead.

The Singapore international is now officially onboard with the Lion City Sailors and is expected to do what he does best: fashion goal-scoring chances for his teammates and also put the ball into the back of the net. 

Expressing his delight at signing for the Sailors, Shawal is champing at the bit and hopes to play an influential part in the club’s bid to return to the top of Singapore football.    

“It’s a huge move in my career and I’m excited to begin my journey with the Sailors. It’s every footballer’s dream to represent a club of such stature,” said the speedy forward who is now two goals away from hitting 50 SPL goals.

“I see this as an opportunity for me to further showcase my abilities and I aim to continue my momentum with my goals and assists. We have a very good squad assembled here and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead of us in the upcoming season.”

To be embedded in an ambitious setup and train at Lion City Sailors Training Centre which opened in July this year is something Shawal is already looking forward to. 

“It’s an amazing feeling to have this facility where we can train day in, day out alongside the likes of Maxime Lestienne and Diego Lopes who are quality players,” he noted. 

“I’ve had the chance to look at the facilities here and this is totally different from what I’ve experienced before. I can’t wait to have our training sessions when pre-season gets underway.” 

Shawal is also relishing the opportunity to represent the Sailors in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL) and wants to help propel the club back into the group stages for a second time. 

“I would say that I’m hitting the peak of my career and I definitely want the team to give a good account of ourselves in the ACL. 

“Playing in the ACL will give me the chance to come up against quality opposition and push myself even more,” added Shawal, who featured in the second-tier AFC Cup with Hougang in 2020 and 2022. 

Shawal also believes the transition into the team would be seamless, especially with a number of his Sailors teammates part of the current Singapore national team set-up.

The 31-year-old came off the bench to net a brace in Singapore’s 3-1 win over the Maldives in their final AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup tune-up match last Saturday. 

“We’ve been playing together in the national team for a while now and the chemistry is there so I’m sure there won’t be many issues settling in,” said Shawal, who earned his first cap for the Lions in 2016.

“One player that I’m really excited to be linking up with again is Hafiz Nor, who’s a leader to me. I’ve known him since the start of my professional career (with Geylang International) in 2014 and being a winger himself before, he would impart tips to me on how I can be a better wide player.”

Shawal also had some words for the Sailors faithful.

“I hope you guys will give me a warm welcome and I will try to entertain you on the pitch to the best of my abilities,” he said. 

“I’ll strive to be ready for every game, be it in the SPL or on the continental stage and give everything that I can for the club and the fans.”  


Risto Vidaković relishing chance of creating “something special” with Sailors

Risto Vidaković is relishing the challenge of bringing the Lion City Sailors back to the top of Singapore football as the club looks to accelerate towards its vision of becoming a top Asian club and a hub of youth development on the continent.

“The people here are very professional – the club is taking things very seriously with the construction of the new Training Centre and everyone here is working on the same goal of building something very powerful in the region.  I know the club is targeting continuous improvement and optimisation,” he said.

“For me, I see this as a very huge and exciting challenge to come in to make something special at the club.” 

And the well-rested Risto is hungry and raring to go. 

Ever since he parted ways with Malaysia Super League side Melaka United through mutual consent in April 2022 and called time on an ill-fated stint that lasted just a few months, the 53-year-old Serbian returned to the Spanish capital of Madrid – his home of almost 30 years – to spend more time with his family while continuing to keep up to speed with the game through analysing La Liga matches from his couch. 

Photo courtesy of Melaka United

“It was one of the most difficult periods for me in my coaching career because of all the issues there – players are not getting paid and nobody is motivated. In the end we realised the best way is to part ways. 

“It wasn’t pleasant, but sometimes it’s good to have this type of negative experience which helps you grow and learn in football. I’ve been travelling around and enjoying time with my wife and son since – things that I couldn’t do before. 

“But now I just can’t wait to get started again,” said Risto, who holds a UEFA Pro coaching license. 

Risto is no stranger to Singapore football, having followed the Singapore Premier League (SPL) closely since 2016 when his former club Ceres was one of the foreign teams invited to play in the Singapore Cup in that year as well as in the following campaign. 

He was also in charge of Ceres when they faced Home United – the previous iteration of the Sailors – in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup ASEAN zonal finals for two straight years – emerging victorious in 2017 then edged out by the Singapore side in 2018. 

Photo courtesy of Singapore Premier League

With Ceres having the accolade of being the top-ranked Southeast Asian club in the AFC club rankings in 2019 and 2020, his achievements in Philippines speak for itself: he notably inspired Ceres to claim the scalp of Australia’s A-League side Brisbane Roar in the 2018 AFC Champions League (ACL) second preliminary round, this on top of winning three straight domestic titles there between 2017 to 2019. 

“It wasn’t easy because Philippines football was still very much on their way up and it takes quite some effort to get the players to adapt from playing in the domestic level to a much higher level like the AFC,” said Risto with great pride. 

In addition, he has experience elsewhere in the region – winning the Maldives’ league undefeated with Maziya in 2021 and managing Borneo in Indonesia. 

Risto is also known for his knack for nurturing young players who grow into first-team stalwarts. Earlier in his career, he worked under the legendary Spanish coach Javier Clemente as assistant coach of the Serbia national team where he helped shape players the likes of Nemanja Vidić and Nikola Žigić. 

Thereafter he became head coach at lower-division Spanish clubs like Écija, Cádiz, and the Real Betis reserve team – where he developed a number of talents for their first team including Alejandro Pozuelo, who then went on to play in the English Premier League with Swansea City. 

It is something which he hopes to continue to do at the Sailors, with a slew of young players set to join the 2023 roster. 

“Every club needs a good mix between young and experienced players – I’m happy we have some top foreign players here who have played in top-level leagues in Europe and they will be important to help guide these young players to reach another level in their game.

“Collectively with these ingredients, we can build something important for the future and create a good atmosphere in the dressing room for the players every day.”

Risto will officially start work in January 2023 and will need time to get to know the players better, but there is no doubt that he wants the team to play entertaining attacking football based on ball possession, a style laced with intelligence and solidarity off the ball. 

“I like to play offensive football and it’s obvious in all the clubs I’ve worked in before that we’ve played that way. It’s important that the fans enjoy what they’re seeing from the team. 

“While I have my philosophy, it’s also key that my players feel comfortable and happy with their positions on the pitch and their roles within the team so I have to adapt as well,” he said.

Risto is adamant that the Sailors should charge ahead with the objective of reclaiming the SPL title and returning to the ACL group stages for a second time. 

“Yes, of course it’s not easy to put together a new team with players of different mentalities and habits which they had from other clubs, but that’s the challenge I chose to – and want to – take up. I know the pressure of us being the only privatised club in Singapore and the league is getting more competitive, but it’s on us to live up to it and we have to challenge on all fronts,” said Risto. 

“We’ve got all the materials for a successful team and everyone has to pull together in the same direction to make 2023 a memorable year for the club.”


Risto Vidaković appointed as head coach of the Lion City Sailors

Risto Vidaković has been appointed Head Coach of the Lion City Sailors as the club looks for a refresh ahead of the 2023 domestic football season. 

The 53-year-old who holds a UEFA Pro coaching licence, steps into the role that was filled on an interim basis by Luka Lalić, Technical Director of the Lion City Sailors Football Academy, since August 2022, and will officially link up with the team in January for pre-season preparations. 

Vidaković is no stranger to Southeast Asian football, having worked in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, where he memorably won three straight Philippines Football League (PFL) titles between 2017 to 2019 with Ceres-Negros, also leading the Philippine side to become ASEAN zone champions in the 2017 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup. 

The Serbian was also a league winner in the Maldives with Maziya in a memorable unbeaten 2020-2021 campaign. 

“Risto is a serial winner in the region, and has proven that he can work European know-how into the football culture in Southeast Asia – and this in varying challenging circumstances as well. I’m confident he is the right man to take the club forward,” said Sailors’ Chairman, Forrest Li. 

“His philosophy of football matches what we envision for ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, he is a dedicated football thinker and a father figure to players, especially the young ones, and I’m excited to have him at the helm of our team.” 

Photo courtesy of Melaka United

Before signing up with the Sailors, Vidaković plied his trade across the Causeway with Melaka United, a club he left through mutual consent in April 2022. 

“The people at the Sailors are very professional – the club is taking things very seriously with the construction of the new Training Centre and everyone here is working on the same goal of building something very powerful in the region. I know the club is targeting continuous improvement and optimisation,” said Vidaković. 

“For me, I see this as a huge and exciting challenge to come in to make something special at the club.”

And Vidaković is already looking forward to laying the foundations for the Sailors’ new way of football on the first day of pre-season training at Mattar Road. 

“I like to play offensive football and it’s obvious in all the clubs I’ve worked in before that we’ve played that way. It’s important that the fans enjoy what they’re seeing from the team. 

“While I have my philosophy, it’s also key that my players feel comfortable and happy with their positions on the pitch and their roles within the team so I have to adapt as well,” he said. 


Sailors Abroad: A journey of self-discovery in Braga

In Sailors Abroad, we take an in-depth look at the Sailors’ foreign stints, through the eyes of those who lived through the experience.

In this piece, Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite squad’s Rae Peh shares his thoughts on the opportunity of training alongside his counterparts at Portugal’s S.C. Braga.


S.C. Braga have built one of Europe’s best emerging youth academies in recent times, churning out the likes of Pedro Neto and Francisco Trincão – who are now recognisable names in the European game. 

Four boys from the Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite Squad had the chance of being embedded in Braga’s impressive youth system recently during a 15-day training stint (20 November to 4 December 2022). 

Courtesy of a warm long-term relationship between the Sailors and Braga, the quartet – born between 2007 to 2008 – trained alongside their counterparts at the Portuguese outfit.

Singaporean duo – goalkeeper Edgar Leo and midfielder Rae Peh were attached to Braga’s Under-15s, while Australian left-back Anton Jerga and Japanese-Irish offensive midfielder Joshua Little were placed with their U16s. 

The four of them are no strangers to being in Europe for football education. Part of the Sailors Under-14 team that travelled to Germany and the Netherlands at the end of 2021 for training camps with the club’s partners Borussia Dortmund (BVB) and Feyenoord Rotterdam respectively, they were also in Spain as recently as this June for something similar with Atletico Madrid

It is a different experience this time and perhaps a more enriching one as they had to step out of their comfort zone and be put through their paces alongside their counterparts at Braga. 

Chilly weather conditions in Europe and training sessions of a higher intensity did not faze the Sailors trainees, but the language barrier proved to be a bit of a bigger challenge. 

“Not all Braga coaches speak English, so we sometimes needed help with translations when they explained the drills. It was the same with players so it was quite a challenge initially as we clearly needed to communicate well with them on the pitch and show our ability,” said 14-year-old Rae. 

“Fortunately, we were prepared well and made to learn some key Portuguese words like Bom Dia (good morning), Bom Tarde (good afternoon), venha aqui (come here), passe a bola (pass the ball) and obrigado (thank you) which helped us a lot. Over the days, we and the Braga boys got to know each other much better.”

As a central midfielder, Rae gleaned much from Braga’s football philosophy that focuses a lot on ball work and having three central midfielders in their playing system – a consistent system from their Under-13s all the way up to their U21 side. 

“I enjoyed the training session a lot and playing with the Braga boys. They’re technically super gifted, each of them knows how to go and where to go during the build-up play, and their awareness of the game is outstanding. Their level is something that I aspire to.” 

There were lessons that extend beyond the football pitch as the quartet also learnt a bit more about themselves through a personality test.

“We had a mental performance coach who came in to do an individual test with us. Through this test, each of us got to know more about what makes us tick and what are our weak points. 

“I learnt that when I hit my stress point, I tend to do things alone – that’s true and it’s something I will need to cope with and overcome on the football pitch. I’ll have to trust my teammates more to be a better player for the team,” shared Rae. 

Being away from the comfort of home and the safety net of parents for a prolonged period, the Sailors trainees also made sure they watched out for each other well over the course of the trip – as well as learnt more about Portugal’s football culture. 

Apart from visiting Braga’s iconic Municipal Stadium, they also watched a couple of domestic youth games as well as sightseeing around the city – and came across several kids playing on the streets. 

All in all, it was a rewarding trip for the aspiring Sailors trainees to have a first-hand experience of life in a professional academy as they continue to pursue their dreams of being top professionals.

“The biggest lesson was learning to live with uncomfortable situations and learn from them – in our football journey ahead, we’ve to constantly put ourselves in different environments and interact with people from different cultures as they’re necessary to help us grow,” said Rae. 

“The coaches kept telling us not to be afraid to ask questions and speak up – that’s important and we’ve to keep enriching ourselves with new knowledge to develop further.” 


Sailors Abroad: An eye-opener in Atletico Madrid

In Sailors Abroad, we take an in-depth look at the Sailors’ foreign stints, through the eyes of those who lived through the experience.

In this piece, Lion City Sailors Football Academy’s Head of Technical Training Rodrigo Costa reflects on Sailors trainees’ recent training stint at Spain’s Atletico Madrid. 


Spanish giants Atletico Madrid have one of the most internationally renowned youth academies, having groomed homegrown talents like Gabi, Fernando Torres and Saúl Ñíguez. 

Four boys from the Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite Squad had the privilege of being embedded in the youth setup of the 11-time La Liga champions recently during a 15-day training stint (20 November to 4 December 2022), along with the academy’s Head of Technical Training, Rodrigo Costa, and Technical Coach, Nuno Pereira. 

Courtesy of a warm long-term relationship between the Sailors and Atletico, the quartet – born between 2006 to 2008 – trained alongside their counterparts at the Spanish side. 

Left back Luth Harith and central midfielder Nigel Binex were attached to Atletico’s Under-15 and Under-16 “A” teams respectively, while attacking midfielder Jonan Tan and forward Qaisy Noranzor were placed with the Under-17s “B” team. 

While this is a first trip to Spain for Jonan and Qaisy, Harith and Nigel are no strangers to the Iberian peninsula, having been part of the Sailors U15 team that travelled there for a Europe Training Camp earlier this year. Nigel memorably scored a hat-trick against Atletico Madrid to lead the Sailors to a 3-1 win in the final game on that tour. 

This time they are back and are taking the step up to train under the watchful eyes of Atletico academy coaches. Similar to what their peers experienced in Borussia Dortmund, the four boys underwent individual training in their specific positions in the morning before joining their respective teams’ group sessions in the second half of the day. 

Observing keenly from the sidelines, it was also a learning experience for the Sailors coaches. 

Rodrigo quickly took notice of the electric intensity of the Atletico trainees, but was pleasantly surprised at how the Sailors kept up with other facets of the training. 

“The standard of these players in the Atletico academy is obviously very high due to their very well-organised youth programme. Our players understandably struggled in some aspects: the biggest challenges I felt were the level of understanding of the game, which is not as high, and how fast the boys can execute the drills given by Atletico coaches,” shared the 34-year-old. 

“But I have to say: technically the boys are actually not far off and they didn’t look out of place at all – this shows that we’ve done some good work with them in our Academy, but there’s more we can do for sure. 

“We noticed a few major differences: one is that their individual training focuses a lot more on game-realistic situations instead of focusing on honing general technique. That’s an approach we hope to adopt going forward.”

While it took a couple of days for the quartet to break the ice and acclimatise to both training alongside the Atletico boys and the colder weather, they eventually bedded in well and made new friends along the way. 

They were then given the chance to represent Atletico in a squad filled with players from their international program in a friendly against a lower-league Spanish youth side, during which they got to don the iconic red-and-white Atletico jerseys. 

“We’re very thankful to the staff who were so welcoming. They were preparing for their own league games over the weekend but were still so accommodating in having visiting players train with them. 

“It’s great for us to see how the boys reacted to being in an ultra-competitive environment and that’s necessary for them to grow as football players,” said Rodrigo. 

As part of the trip, the Sailors trainees and coaches also got to visit Atletico’s iconic Metropolitano Stadium, watched one of Atletico’s first-team training sessions as well as Atletico’s top-of-the-table clash against Real Madrid in the domestic Under-19 league – a game which ended 0-0. 

They also met some of Atletico’s current and former stars like Saúl, Felipe and the iconic Torres – who is now head coach of their U19s. 

All in all, it was a real eye-opener for the Sailors to experience European football culture and see first-hand just what Atletico’s rising stars have to go through to make it to the top. 

“One thing I saw was how they’re already living a similar life to a professional footballer’s even at the age of 13 to 14. They live in the residence, wake up and have breakfast together, go to training together on a bus and get picked up from school to return to the place at the end of the day. 

“In their free time, they will mingle with each other over games like table tennis or Playstation 5. These kids have to get used to being away from their families for a prolonged period to chase their dreams. This made me wonder if we’re able to do something similar for our boys and whether this is something we can adapt to?” pondered Rodrigo. 

There is little doubt that the work will continue in Singapore. 

“I think the boys saw for themselves what it takes to be a professional footballer overseas – the competition, the things they have to give up and the unwavering commitment to the cause,” said Rodrigo.

“It’s our job in the Academy to help our players find that little bit extra in themselves. We’ll need to increase the level of healthy competitiveness in the team, and we have to help them find a greater desire to succeed that they will even watch and educate themselves more about the game outside of their team training sessions.”


Sailors Abroad: Learning and gleaning from the best in Feyenoord

In Sailors Abroad, we take an in-depth look at the Sailors’ foreign stints, through the eyes of those who lived through the experience.

In this piece, Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite squad’s Nathan Mao shares his thoughts on the opportunity of training alongside his counterparts at Feyenoord.


They have been named the Netherlands’ best academy several times, with the likes of Robin Van Persie (RVP), Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Georginio Wijnaldum coming through the system. 

The Feyenoord Rotterdam Academy continues to be recognised as one of the best youth football setups in the world. And just last month, some of the Lion City Sailors’ very own rising stars were embedded in the Feyenoord setup that churns out rising talents year after year. 

Three boys from the Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite squad recently embarked on a 16-day training stint (29 October to 14 November 2022) at the renowned academy of the 15-time Dutch champions, along with the academy’s Head of Goalkeeping Kris Stergulc and Head Data Analyst He Qixiang. 

Courtesy of the three-year partnership – which began in February 2022 – between the Sailors and Feyenoord that focuses on youth development and education, the trio – born between 2007 to 2009 – trained alongside their counterparts at the Dutch outfit. 

Japanese midfielder Tyler Kawauchi laced up with the Feyenoord Under-14s, while Singaporean duo – forward Nathan Mao and defender Idzham Eszuan – were placed with the Under-15s and Under-16s respectively. 

The three of them had already been in Rotterdam, in November 2021 as part of a 42-day training camp in the Netherlands as well as in Germany, and played against their Feyenoord counterparts then. This time, they are back in Holland in the same training facility and instead trained under the watchful eye of the Dutch coaches. 

While training was usually only once a day from 8.30am to 11am in the morning, those were intense sessions with Nathan noting that the biggest difference was ‘the speed of play’ of the Feyenoord boys. As such, he had to learn how to play faster and release the ball quicker in training duels and matches.

The language barrier proved almost equally challenging. 

“Even though the coaches will explain the drills in English, the players spoke to each other in Dutch most of the time – so we had to try our best to blend in and strike up a conversation with them. 

“Of course it helped for us to learn a few Dutch words and we picked up a few relating to colour to help us with the choosing of bibs in training. The easiest one was ‘Oranje (pronounced as Oh-ran-yeah)’ which obviously is Orange in English.”

Apart from that, the trio settled in well and did not have many other issues. Technically and tactically, they felt they were able to fit in, while the chilly weather – which averaged around 9 degrees Celsius – was something they felt made for perfect training conditions. 

With this not being their first time away from Singapore, they are now getting used to being away from Singapore to chase their dreams and there were no bouts of homesickness. 

Idzham even had the privilege of training under the legendary RVP, who is now the co-head coach of the Feyenoord Under-16s – someone who he felt was a great educator who has the ability to explain what he wants very clearly to his charges.

Away from the seriousness of training, the boys had ample time to unwind in the second half of each day when the Dutch kids went to school. Staying at the Thon Hotel which is located in the heart of Rotterdam, they could easily access the city’s tram lines, and could not resist the opportunity to explore the city and learn more about the culture. 

While they watched a couple of domestic youth games featuring Feyenoord, the highlight of the trip was being amongst some 44,000 fans in a partisan atmosphere at the De Kuip Stadium, watching the Feyenoord first team defeat Lazio 1-0 to qualify for the UEFA Europa League knockout stages. 

The benefits of this trip clearly went beyond the boundaries of just football, with the boys learning to take care of one another away from the parental safety net that home provides. 

“Tyler has a really bad milk allergy. In one of our last trips abroad, he accidentally ate something with milk and ended up staying a couple of days in the hospital. So this time, we made sure we checked everything he touched or ate so that he wouldn’t fall sick again,” Nathan revealed.

All in all, it was a beneficial trip for the trio who developed a better understanding of the game and made some new friends along the way – they have enjoyed it so much that they are looking forward to returning to Rotterdam should the opportunity arise. 

“The people there were really friendly and made sure we felt very welcome, although at the same time we had to prove our abilities and show that we belong alongside them. The coaches also gave us a lot of good feedback on how to improve as a player. 

“We’re very grateful that we players in Singapore have the chance to train with these top talents in the Netherlands and have a taste of the level they’re at,” said Nathan.

For now, Nathan and company believe they are on firm footing in the Sailors Academy that provides a similarly high-level of football training. 

“In my opinion, the methodology and system we have here is really close to Feyenoord’s. We’re getting as many opportunities to expose ourselves here. 

“Obviously there’s a bigger pool of talent in Holland, but we’re getting the best possible opportunity to develop with the quality of the coaching staff and methods we have in our academy.”