His surprise transfer to the Lion City Sailors grabbed all the eyeballs and was the talk of the footballing community in Singapore.
Now, Stipe Plazibat is set to make his much-anticipated debut for the Sailors in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), as they host Geylang International at Bishan Stadium on Sunday evening.
Having been with the team since September 1, the time is ripe for the 31-year-old hotshot to prove his mettle and carry on where he left off.
The Croatian began the year in fine fashion, scoring nine goals in six games across two competitions for his previous employers Hougang United – including the five that made him the league’s top scorer before it was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And our head coach Aurelio Vidmar has no doubt that Stipe will be a hit for the Sailors after seeing his performances in training.
“He has fit in seamlessly since joining us six weeks ago, so much so that it feels like he has been here for a long time,” said former Australian international Aurelio. “He’s been a positive influence to everyone and there haven’t been any issues between the two of us.
“He has a lot of experience and is a very good goal scorer. And he has been at this club before (when it was previously known as Home United). When we knew he was available, there was absolutely no question we had to bring him in. He’s the type of player who I know will turn it on when it’s game day, and I expect him to continue on this way.”
With the unexpected long break providing extra time for coach Aurelio to impose his philosophy on the team, he believes they are now better equipped for the challenges ahead than they were at the beginning of the season.
“I know a bit more about the team…the players also understand more about me and the playing style I want them to have. Now, there’s a better understanding of what we’re trying to do,” noted the 53-year-old, who was only appointed as our head coach last December.
“But obviously the dynamics of training amongst yourselves and actually up against real opponents is completely different. So, we have to go out there and try to perform.”
With the league’s schedule now reduced to two rounds being played over just nine weeks, it is imperative for the Sailors to hit the ground running once the SPL restarts, in order to make up for the slow start to the season which saw them attaining just one point from two matches.
However, coach Aurelio is keen to exercise caution when necessary.
“Yes, any slip-ups can cost you and we need to start strongly. But we want to be still firing in Round 24, and not just be firing in Round Five then slowing down in the next four or five rounds,” he emphasised. “That’s my approach, and I’m confident that if we are focused and committed in what we’re doing, we’ll do very well.”
The build-up to Sunday’s game against Geylang is a vastly different one, with the technical team not being able to scout and analyse their opponents as they would have usually done in the past. As such, coach Aurelio believes the key to success comes internally.
“It’s been seven months since everyone last played. While there might be some similarities with what we know about the opposition previously, it’s still a little bit of an unknown,” he explained.
“We can prepare for them as much as we can, but our focus has certainly been on what we need to do as a team.”
Apart from the arrival of Stipe, the Sailors are further boosted by the return of Adam Swandi for the remaining games. The skilful attacker is now fit for selection again after recovering from a serious knee ligament injury attained back in July 2019, with coach Aurelio noting that he ‘looks very, very sharp’ in training.
They will, however, not be able to call upon the services of Zulqarnaen Suzliman due to his National Service commitments, while Ho Wai Loon, Iqram Rifqi and Amiruldin Asraf are all currently still out injured. As such, three Under-21 players in the form of Danish Iftiqar, Anaqi Ismit and Aizal Murhamdani have made the step up to be included in the fold.
With matches to be played behind closed-doors for the rest of the year, the presence of the Sailors faithful will be sorely missed, but coach Aurelio has vowed that his team will put on a show for the fans watching the game on television and the various streaming platforms.
“We’re very sad not to be able to see the fans because they’re all so important to us, but it’s difficult for them to come to the stadium at this point of time,” he commented.
“On behalf of the staff and all the players, I just want to say that we’re going out to every game to give our absolute 100 per cent. We’re going to leave every ounce of sweat, blood and tears on the pitch to give us a better chance to be successful.
“And certainly, we hope to be able to see the fans and to allow them to get up close to the players in the near future.”