Tricky Tanjong Pagar test ahead on Ranko’s SPL debut

Just 75 hours after being unveiled as the Lion City Sailors Head Coach, Aleksandar Ranković will be patrolling the sidelines of the Jurong East Stadium, pulling the strings as his new charges face Tanjong Pagar United in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

The Saturday (1 July) fixture against a resilient and robust Jaguars will be no walk in the park, but the Serb is champing at the bit to get started.

“I’m very excited that I can be on the bench with the team and also on the field for this week’s training where we’re going to prepare our game plan and work on the way we want to play,” said the 44-year-old.

There has not been much time between his Wednesday (28 June) appointment and Saturday evening’s kickoff to implement his vision of football, but while Ranko is clear that a sustained charge towards the SPL title is key, the Sailors must start to deliver on performance as well.

“There is not so much time to change a lot of philosophy about the way we are playing because we are in the middle of the season, but I will add some of my own ingredients in,” said the former ADO Den Haag head coach.  

“I say this all the time, I am Serbian by origin, but I am a Dutch football coach: we want to dominate the game from the start and keep possession of the ball as long as possible.”

The Sailors are third in the nine-team SPL standings on 33 points, one behind second-placed Tampines Rovers, with league leaders Albirex Niigata (S) on 37 points in what is a tight three-horse race for the SPL title.

Skipper Hariss Harun warned that the Sailors must stay focused throughout the 90 minutes in the Jaguars den, or risk coming up short.

“Tanjong Pagar is no easy opponent, they can be tricky, and always make things difficult for us whenever we play them, especially at Jurong East and we need to keep our heads focused on the task ahead,” said the 32-year-old.

“Their physicality is one of their significant strengths. They have some physical players who can try to provoke and try to make us uncomfortable on the pitch. We just have to keep our heads in check, be cool and play our game.”

While he is confident that the quality in the Sailors’ squad means the team is well-equipped to face the challenges that the SPL will pose, Ranko is taking nothing for granted.

“I think every team, not just Tanjong Pagar, will be raring to go against us. We are in the middle of the season now, and I’m sure that every game is going to be very challenging from now on,” he said.

“But whenever we play, I want to show all our opponents that we are the ones who are going to be in charge of the game, dominating from the start.”


I believe in the vision, the people, the structure – and I can’t wait to get started: Ranko

From the moment Aleksandar Ranković sat down in front of the cameras at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre, it became crystal clear this man is not here to mess about. 

He listened intently to the thinking behind the club’s First Interview series, settled into his seat, and delivered firm answers at the first time of asking. Perhaps more importantly, he did not flinch in the face of tough questions. 

While this is his first foray into Southeast Asian football – he has spent his entire coaching career in Holland – he is already fully on board with the Sailors project. 

Known as Ranko to his colleagues, the 44-year-old is looking to make an impact that goes beyond just the first team. 

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in this project, and it’s not just the facilities we have here. More importantly it is the people in and around the club who are contributing in different roles and the way that things are organised here,” he said. 

“It is really like a European organisation and I think there is a lot here at the Sailors for a lot of clubs in Holland to envy,” said the 44-year-old Serb, who holds a UEFA Pro coaching license. 

“I’m really proud to be part of the Lion City Sailors; I think I’m going to enjoy working here because I have the same vision about the game as the people here – that is not just limited to things in the first team, but also in the Academy.”

Having carved out a career in a country where Total Football originated, Ranko – who held coaching positions in Eredivisie first teams including Vitesse Arnhem, Sparta Rotterdam and FC Utrecht – looks set to implement a style of football to excite Sailors’ fans. 

“Obviously my origin is Serbian, but I always say that I’m a Dutch coach since I spent most of my career – both as a player and as a coach – in Holland,” said the former ADO Den Haag head coach. 

“What fans can expect to see from my team is one that plays very attacking and dominating football; creating a lot of chances while on the other hand, not giving our opponents a lot of space to hurt us.”

Ranko already has a vision of how he wants the Sailors to play, but he is acutely aware of the critical balancing act between the short-term goal of getting results to stay in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race and the long-term objective of growing into a force to be reckoned with in the region. 

“To achieve success here, I have to make the players understand exactly how we want to play; it’s not so much the system, but more of the principles of play. The system may change from game to game, but the principles are a constant and that’s something I want us to always display on the pitch,” said the Belgrade native, who worked under experienced Dutch trainer Henk Fraser at three different Eredivisie clubs. 

Ranko has big ambitions for his version of the Sailors, and while he is especially enthusiastic about the club’s second foray into the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL), Ranko understands the importance of the immediate goal – to reclaim the SPL title. 

“I know how the club did in the ACL last season and we have to build something to do even better this time around. Especially when we’re playing at home, we have to be very hard to play against – even against the top teams in Asia. 

“But I’m not looking too far ahead now, the main priority is the SPL. There’s still a gap between us and the top of the table and I’m coming in during the middle of the season, but we’re going to fight for the title till the last day,” he declared.  

With a young and hungry squad that has soldiered on despite some teething problems, Ranko is firm in his belief that the club has all the tools to achieve success.  

“I’ve watched a few matches of the team and now that I’ve been here for a few days, I can see that we have a very good squad and a real positive energy around the team. There’s no doubt about it – we have to challenge for the league title and play a significant role in the ACL,” he said.

“We want to be the best and the only place to earn the tag of being the best is on the field. We’ve a great setup here to help us, so it’s our job now to push the club towards achieving these objectives.”


Lion City Sailors appoint Aleksandar Ranković as new Head Coach

Lion City Sailors have appointed Aleksandar Ranković as Head Coach as the club looks to strengthen its challenge for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title and plot an improved second foray into Asia’s top-tier club competition: the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL). 

The 44-year-old joins the Sailors on a two-year contract from Eredivisie side FC Utrecht – the club that launched the career of Belgian international Dries Mertens and former Liverpool forward Dirk Kuyt – serving as assistant coach to Henk Fraser. He steps into the role vacated by Risto Vidaković.

Ranković started his coaching career in the youth squads of ADO Den Haag, before moving to coach various Eredivisie first teams including Vitesse Arnhem, Sparta Rotterdam and ADO Den Haag, where the Serb was head coach. 

“What the Sailors are trying to build in Singapore is very exciting, and I’m delighted to be a part of this ambitious project I believe will be something quite special,” said Ranković.

“I know that I can bring a little spark to the first team, but I’m not going to make wild claims that everything will be much better the moment I take charge – that would be disrespectful to my predecessors at the club. 

“I also know that it will take time for things to change, but I am confident that step by step, we will be a better team.” 

Luka Lalić asserts that this grounded, realistic approach is one of the things that makes Ranković a strong candidate for a Sailors side chasing to win the SPL title. 

“He brings a lot to the table, including experience with teams that have competed in UEFA competitions, and that will be invaluable for us as we look to build a team that can deliver on our football vision with a blend of experience and young players,” said the Sailors Technical Director. 

“I think his pragmatic and straightforward manner will help us efficiently get to where we want to be.” 

Ranković, who was a defensive midfielder in a playing career that saw him pull on the shirts of Vitesse, ADO Den Haag and Partizan Belgrade, brings with him a football philosophy that is set to excite the Sailors’ faithful. 

“I’m a native Serbian, but as a coach, I’m Dutch,” said Ranković paying tribute to the influence of the country in which he has spent his entire coaching career. “I like my team to dominate possession and play attacking football. 

“I’m confident that we can do this well with the players that we have in the squad,” added the father of three, pointing to the quality that the Sailors foreign contingent – including the likes of former PSV Eindhoven winger Maxime Lestienne and Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes who joined from Portuguese top tier side, Rio Ave in 2020 – bring to the team.

It is an optimism shared by Lalić. 

“We are very much aligned with Aleks, in terms of football philosophy, approach to training and vision for the first team and club,” said the 36-year-old. “We can’t wait for him to get started and for the team to take on board his brand of football, and eventually to embrace the spirit and energy he brings to the training ground and pitch.”

Ranković has already met with Hariss Harun and company and will take charge of his first training session as Sailors Head Coach this evening.

“Everyone at the club has been superb in helping me settle into Singapore, and I can’t wait to get started,” said Ranković. 

“I believe in the vision of the Sailors, I see the commitment and work that has gone into the project, and I must say that I’m proud to be a part of this club.”


Rudy and Arshad join Geylang on loan

Lion City Sailors duo Rudy Khairullah and Arshad Shamim have joined Geylang International on loan for the remainder of the 2023 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season. 

Rudy goes on his second loan stint after doing so at Balestier Khalsa in 2022. 

A dependable custodian with great reflexes, Rudy was part of the Lion City Sailors squad that won the Singapore Premier League title in 2021.

A winger with bags of pace to burn, Arshad joined the Sailors in the club’s inaugural SPL season, and went on to play for the Young Lions for the next two campaigns before returning to the club at the tail-end of 2022 upon the completion of his National Service obligations.

Arshad has scored two goals across 14 appearances for the club across the two stints.

We wish them all the best with the Eagles.


Senior Minister Tharman: Wonderful to see strong support for Tasek Sailors initative

The inaugural Tasek Sailors Charity Football fundraiser that brought together 24 corporations and organisations as well as 14 boys and girls teams on Sunday, 25 June saw a total of S$265,000 raised from all sources.

Funds raised will go towards empowering and uplifting disadvantaged youth across Singapore through a holistic development program put together by the Tasek Sailors, a joint initiative of the Lion City Sailors and Tasek Football Academy. 

Sunday’s Charity Football tournament that was hosted at the Lion City Sailors Training Centre saw the enthusiastic participation of corporate supporters and schools that came together in the spirit of friendly competition and community interest.

“It’s wonderful to see such strong support for the Tasek Sailors initiative. It’s part of how we must help everyone discover their strengths, including the talents they never knew they had, and to gain respect for each other’s strengths. Sports brings that out in so many of the young people we have been working with,” said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Patron of Tasek Jurong.

SM Tharman was one of the three Guests of Honours who graced the event along with Members of Parliament, Ms Tin Pei Ling and Mr Shawn Huang.

The event showcased Singaporeans’ passion for football – and just how effective the sport can be in bringing the community together – and also demonstrated the collective commitment to supporting young individuals who face challenging circumstances. 

Deloitte won the Open category tournament beating UB Morgan 2-0 in the final. 

Sailors B10 were the champions of the Boys Under-11 category, while Sailors White ended the day as champions of the Girls Under-14 tournament.

A Celebrity Exhibition match, featuring the likes of local footballing legends Fandi Ahmad and Aleksandar Duric as well as local actors Elvin Ng and Ian Fang, was also played out to much fanfare.

“We extend our heartfelt gratitude to all participants and sponsors who contributed to the success of our fundraiser,” said Lion City Sailors Academy General Manager, Tan Li Yu. “There are also several supporters who worked hard behind the scenes to breathe life into the event.

“While we are delighted to witness such an outpouring of support, we know the real work for us starts now, channelling funds raised to where they can effectively help – and we are looking forward to getting properly started.”

The funds raised will be utilised to provide a comprehensive programme of football training and mentorship – through the Tasek Sailors Football Academy, Financial Assistance for female footballers as well as outreach programmes – for young boys and girls, empowering them to develop both as individuals and footballers.

A key facet of the Tasek Sailors initiative that Dr ‘Ain Azman is looking forward to is the support that Tasek Sailors will give to girls’ football.

“We’ve already seen the effect that our programme has had and we’re excited to see how much we can further the development of girls,” said the Tasek Jurong Senior Manager.

“There are several girls under the Tasek umbrella who are looking forward to the programme being set in motion, and we also witnessed in the girls’ tournament today that we are not short on talent either. It will be fantastic to see just what more Singaporean girls can do with more structured support.”

The Tasek Sailors will start with a scaling up of the Tasek Sailors Academy, before getting outreach programmes underway across the island, to deliver professional football coaching and structured mentorship programs to empower more Singaporean youth.


Sailors Women bounce back emphatically to go top of WPL

The Lion City Sailors Women’s team recorded a resounding 8-0 victory over Balestier Khalsa at Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Sunday (25 June) evening to go top of the 2023 Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL) table.

They now lead the 10-team WPL table with 16 points, one ahead of Albirex Niigata (S) who dropped points in a 1-1 draw with Police Sports Association in a concurrent match. Hougang United are close behind in third with 14 points. 

This was the largest-ever winning margin for the Sailors Women and it brought a little smile to forward Nur Izzati Rosni, who starred with a clinical hat-trick. 

We have struggled to score goals this season and to fix that, we’ve been working hard on ways to penetrate opponents’ defences and create chances in training – and it paid off today,” said the 24-year-old. “It is a very nice feeling to convert many of our chances into goals.” 

Izzati opened the floodgates for the Sailors as early as in the third minute when she headed in a rebound after the ball was parried away by Balestier’s custodian Tan Eng Chiu.

The Sailors doubled their advantage through a Madison Telmer tap-in on 17 minutes, this after being set free on the right wing by a brilliant Lila Tan pass.

Wide forward Miray Altun extended the lead to three in the 45th minute, unleashing a scintillating shot that curled beyond the reach of the outstretched Balestier goalkeeper. 

The Sailors carried on in the same vein in the second half, slamming a plethora of goals past Balestier.

18-year-old Miray turned architect in the 48th minute with a well-crafted pass that found Izzati, who put the ball into the back of the net with consummate ease.

Even after four goals, the Sailors were still not done. 

The irrepressible Izzati was determined to claim her hat-trick, and did so in lightning fashion. Clean through on goal, she slotted past the Balestier custodian in the 62nd minute. 

Izzati was jubilant after the game and gave credit to her team.

“It is an amazing feeling to score three goals and I’m really happy, but this is a team effort, that’s for sure – from the goalkeeper to defenders and the forwards, everyone,” said Izzati, who is now up to six goals for the season – three behind Albirex’s league-leading scorer Kana Kitahara. 

“Scoring goals involves all of us: to win the ball, to make the crafty pass, and then to score. As an attacking player, it is my duty to help the team by putting the ball in the back of the net, but this is a whole team effort.” 

In the 70th minute, Madison scored her second on the night, pouncing to block a Balestier defender’s pass before providing an instinctive finish, for the Sailors’ sixth goal of the evening.

Substitute Chloe Koh then came on to great effect, the 16-year-old providing a pair of assists to her older teammates. First for Lila’s 83rd-minute goal, and then to help Julia Farr score what was her first ever Sailors goal in the second minute of injury time.

Chloe was one of six 16-year-olds who took to the pitch against Balestier, alongside Tia Foong, the pair making their debut for the Sailors’ women, while Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran was included in the Sailors WPL starting XI for the first time.

The Sailors Women will take on Geylang International on Saturday, 22 July at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium when the WPL resumes after the international break. 


Adam steadies the ship as Sailors sink Hougang

Any fears the Lion City Sailors would be destabilised by the departure of former head coach Risto Vidaković were put firmly to bed on Sunday (25 June) evening, as the Bishan Stadium outfit put on an impressive display to record a 3-0 home win over Hougang United.

And it was Sailors midfielder Adam Swandi who made the difference on the night, as he scored twice and assisted another – vital contributions which ultimately led to him winning a deserved Man-of-the-Match award.

More importantly, it gave a much-needed confidence boost to the Sailors – who kept their first clean sheet in eight games – and helped to extend their unbeaten run in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) to nine games.

For Adam, however, this match-winning performance meant more than just the three points – after all, it signified the culmination of his journey to recover from a cruciate ligament injury that had kept him out of the game for months.

“The journey to recover from my injury, which took three to four months, was not easy,” Adam revealed. “But I had the proper support behind me – my family, friends, teammates, club, and the FAS (Football Association of Singapore). All of them played their part in helping me get back to where I can perform at my best again and help my team win.

“But definitely, the most crucial thing today was that we got the three points. It was also important that we kept a clean sheet as well, as that is something that we have lacked this year.”

While the spotlight may have shone brightest on Adam, the rest of the Sailors more than held their own, as the team exerted control over the visitors right from the get-go.

Indeed, the Sailors came close to taking the lead in the 16th minute when Diego Lopes turned and fired a curled shot at goal from distance that stung the palms of Hougang goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.

A few minutes later, Maxime Lestienne jumped highest to reach Hafiz Nor’s cross into the box, but his header crashed off the crossbar.

Given the trajectory of the game – which saw the Sailors dominate possession and play in their opponent’s half – it was no surprise when they finally broke the deadlock in the third minute of first-half added time.

Adam charged through the middle of the pitch and fizzed a pass to Abdul Rasaq, who turned his marker before lashing the ball into the back of the net.

Three minutes after the break, Adam opened his account for the season in style, rifling in an unstoppable shot from just outside the penalty box which nestled in the top corner of the net.

Adam got his second goal of the game 15 minutes from time, as his scuffed shot took an awkward bounce and looped over a wrongfooted Zaiful to quash all hopes of an unlikely Hougang comeback.

At the end of the 90-odd minutes, the Sailors had mustered 21 shots to Hougang’s one – a statistic that showcased just how dominant they were.

Nonetheless, Daan van Oudheusden – who is currently in interim charge of the Sailors alongside Pablo Muñiz – believes that his side still needs improvements in the final third.

“In general, we can improve in our possession and ball progression, but we definitely need to be better in the final third,” said Daan who admitted that the win had lifted a huge weight off the team’s shoulders, following what he acknowledged had been a “difficult” time.

“To be honest, this win feels like a relief. The departure of Risto was not a situation we were expecting, and we needed to adapt to it as a team,” Daan shared.

“So, I’m very proud of the boys that they were able to do so and carry our good momentum forward. It’s not been an easy period for us, but Pablo and I will just focus on winning every game that we’re in charge of, so that we remain in the title hunt.”

With the win, the Sailors have moved up to second in the SPL table on 33 points, three behind current league leaders Albirex Niigata (S). The Sailors will next take on Tanjong Pagar United at the Jurong East Stadium next Saturday (1 July).


Focused Sailors will soldier on

The Lion City Sailors return to the Singapore Premier League (SPL) after the international break and they will look to pick up where they left off – an eight-match unbeaten run – as they host Hougang United at Bishan Stadium on Sunday (23 June).

Daan van Oudheusden and Pablo Muñiz have been in interim charge of the first team for just a week, but have already seen enough from the Sailors they believe will continue to drive towards the SPL title. 

The Sailors are currently three points off frontrunners Albirex Niigata (S) – who have a game in hand – and Tampines Rovers going into the final ten games of the season. 

“It is quite hectic right now because it is a time of transition. We need to adapt to the new situation – and I admit it is not easy – but the atmosphere in the team is still positive, and we still have the same fiery desire to win games,” said Daan.

Daan takes charge of the practical aspects of first team coaching, while Pablo focuses more on analysis and preparation. 

“I don’t think a lot of things will change, but I think we are well-prepared and confident for the next game against Hougang,” added Daan who asserted that despite the preparations being slightly affected by the international break, the Sailors have been working very hard.

Eight Lion City Sailors players were named in Takayuki Nishigaya’s Singapore National Team’s squad, which faced Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands in the recent FIFA international window.

“The national team players just came back from international duty and we had to give them additional time to recover, but it is going to be fine because we have worked hard in our preparations.”

“At the end of the day, there is a very strong bond among the players, so belief and motivation are always very high – we’re ready to take the three points,” said the Dutchman. 

It is precisely this drive that Hafiz Nor believes will put his team in good stead. 

“Nothing’s going to deter our focus – we’ve done well in recent matches and we want to continue our good form to stay in the title hunt,” emphasised the Sailors vice-captain. 

“We’re giving our fullest support to Daan and Pablo, and we have full confidence in them to lead us while the club is looking for a permanent replacement. As a club, we must rally together and fight for each other.”

Hafiz is acutely aware that sixth-placed Hougang could pose a tough test having won four out of their last five matches but believes that the Sailors’ tenacious fortitude would give them the edge to push for a win.

“We are really aware of Hougang and it will be a tricky game. Under coach Marko Kraljević, Hougang has been in decent form,and we need to be careful,” said the 34-year-old, who is the longest-serving Sailor with 72 appearances. 

“We don’t expect any easy games in the SPL and we are going to be focused on our task ahead: To get the three points.”


Focus critical as Sailors Women look to beat Balestier

The Lion City Sailors were held to a 1-1 draw with a spirited Albirex Niigata (S) side at Yishun Stadium on Sunday (18 June) in the Deloitte Women’s Premier League (WPL), but the women are determined to put that result firmly behind them and return to winning ways against Balestier Khalsa at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium this Sunday (25 June).

Ho Hui Xin is confident that the Sailors will bounce back and the midfielder is backing her side to show a fiery energy to beat a Balestier side that is currently seventh in the 10-team WPL table.

The Sailors are currently in second, level on points with league leaders Albirex, who are ahead on superior goal difference.

“We should have closed the Albirex game with the chances we created, but we didn’t do that, and we were punished. We can’t let that happen again,” said the midfield enforcer. 

“Our style of play will be the same against Balestier in the next game and all games in the future, but we need to improve on our finishing – it doesn’t amount to anything if we can’t convert our chances – and I’m confident that moving forward, we will put the ball in the back of the net.”

While she retains a firm belief in the team, Hui Xin has called for the Sailors women to guard against complacency against Balestier. 

“They have quite a few experienced players like Defender Siti Nurerwadah and also Mastura Jeilani who has a commanding presence – we need to look out for her. She can take long shots, and usually, Balestier’s play goes through her,” added the Sailors Women vice-captain. 

“As a team, they have a strong bond and terrific chemistry, I am sure they will give us an excellent fight. We need to be focused, and we need the three points to maintain our foothold in the league.”

Munirah Mohamad was equally adamant to retain focus for the entire 90 minutes against Balestier. 

“We did feel defeated after the draw against Albirex, but we do want to let that affect our morale, and we are determined to improve,” said the defender. 

“We cannot let our guard down because Balestier have key players who can change the game. Any complacency can bring us down, so as a team we must keep our head in the game, score goals and get the three points.”


Sailors get direct entry into 2023/24 AFC Champions League group stage

The Lion City Sailors were originally pencilled in to battle in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) playoffs, but the club will now get direct entry to the ACL group stage. 

The AFC confirmed the fact today (21 June) in a media release that revealed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK)’s “one (1) direct slot has been redistributed to SGP in accordance with Articles 3.16 and 3.17 of the Entry Manual” for AFC club competitions.

This means that the Sailors go straight into the competition courtesy of being the top local side in the Singapore Premier League in 2022.

The draw for the group stage will take place on Thursday, 24 August and fixtures are scheduled to take place between September to December 2023.

This will be the Sailors’ second appearance in Asia’s top-tier club competition after a debut outing in 2022 that yielded two wins and one draw.

Leading a young and hungry Class of 2023, Sailors’ captain Hariss Harun is looking forward to the opportunity to battle the cream of the continent once again. 

“The club’s aim has always been to make it back to the ACL and we’re all happy to be able to compete with Asia’s top clubs once again,” said the 32-year-old, who also played in the ACL for Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim in 2019 and 2020. 

“We’re all aware of the size of the challenge ahead, but challenges like these are what you live for in football and as a team, we will relish this chance. Right now, we’re very much focused on trying to regain the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title but we are excited about embarking on our second ACL campaign.”