Every new year brings with it new challenges, and there will be plenty of those ahead of the Lion City Sailors in 2022.
The club’s maiden Singapore Premier League (SPL) title will not be forgotten anytime soon, but Kim Do-hoon’s men will firmly set their sights on breaking more barriers this season as the club charges into not just the league, but two other competitions that the Sailors will compete in for the first time: the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) and the Singapore Cup.
A winning start was made over the weekend with a triumph in the AIA Community Shield – the first time the Sailors have defeated Albirex in six encounters since the club’s inception in 2020 – and excitement levels are building up.
The Sailors are chomping at the bit to get the SPL season underway against Hougang United in the club’s first league match this Sunday.
And below are eight reasons we should all get hyped too!
- Drawing from the bright lights of Europe
Diego Lopes will not be the only Sailor with European pedigree in the squad this season, thanks to the arrivals of Maxime Lestienne and Pedro Henrique.
Set to become the first Belgian to play in the SPL, Lestienne has spent the entirety of his career in Europe’s top leagues. The 29-year-old started off at hometown side Royal Excelsior Mouscron and went on to play for Club Brugge, before moving out to Genoa (Italy), PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) and Malaga (Spain). The skilful winger joins from Standard Liège, and having represented Belgium at every age-group from the Under-15s through to the Under-21s, as well as possessing UEFA Champions League and Europa League experience under his belt, Lestienne’s quality is undoubted.
Pedro, also 29, began his career in his native Brazil but is no stranger to top-flight football in Europe. The commanding centre-back spent five seasons in Portugal’s Primeira Liga with Vitória Guimarães from 2015 to 2020, amassing 155 appearances and becoming a fan favourite. Like Lestienne, Pedro has played in the Europa League and his experience is sure to benefit the Sailors backline.
- Anu and Izwan bring depth
It is not often that a team possesses two top-class goalkeepers but that is exactly the situation at the Sailors this year. The recruitment of Izwan Mahbud, regarded as Singapore’s best between the sticks alongside Hassan Sunny, means that the Sailors will be in extremely safe hands regardless of who wears the gloves.
Further ahead in midfield, the arrival of M Anumanthan adds never-before-seen depth to the engine room. Fresh off a stellar season with Kedah, the combative midfielder’s homecoming means that the Sailors will possess extra steel and panache in the centre of the park to complement the talents of Shahdan Sulaiman, Saifullah Akbar, Diego Lopes and Adam Swandi.
Both established Singapore internationals who know what it takes to win, Anu and Izwan will play important roles this season.
- Double (K)im-pact
Wookie, as he is affectionately known, produced a clinical display against Albirex to help the Sailors come from behind to win the Community Shield on his first outing in Singapore. Coach Kim has previously spoken about how the South Korea international’s characteristics suit the Sailors, while the opportunity for Shin-wook to work with Coach Kim was a huge factor in his decision to come to Singapore.
Like Shin-wook, Coach Kim is also an ACL winner and a striker during his playing days – there is no one better-placed to fully draw out the former’s potential as Shin-wook looks to spearhead the Sailors to hunt for glory.
- Back and raring to go
Amid all the excitement about the new boys, it should not be forgotten that there are a handful of returning players who are raring to go.
Hami Syahin, Iqram Rifqi, Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Anaqi Ismit all spent time away at other clubs in 2021 but are poised to be part of the Sailors this season. With the sheer number of matches the team is set to play, particularly with the new quadruple round-robin league format in force this year, there will be opportunities to impress for the quartet.
Hami and Zulqarnaen both featured fairly regularly for the Young Lions and also tasted Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup action last December along with Iqram, who is on the way back to his best after a lengthy injury lay-off that sidelined him for most of his time at Geylang International. Meanwhile, Anaqi will be hoping to get a chance to prove himself after impressing at Tanjong Pagar United, where he scored four times.
- Defending the crown
Common knowledge suggests that winning a title is tough, but defending that title is even harder. The Sailors will be put to the test this season, especially with teams around the SPL strengthening and eyeing the very crown the team will wear in 2022.
But Hariss Harun and company are raring to go. A rigorous pre-season regime has prepared the Sailors well for battle in what will be a long campaign, and while many opponents will take aim, it is clear that there is determination throughout the entire squad to savour the feeling of being champions again. The comeback victory in the Community Shield was a prime example of how the team has the ability to dig deep when the chips are down – this never-say-die spirit outs the Sailors Class of 2022 in good stead to retain the league.
- A shot at the Singapore Cup
The return of the Singapore Cup – the tournament was called off in each of the past two seasons due to the pandemic – offers the Sailors the chance to taste even more domestic success this season. The likes of Shahdan, Song Ui-young and Adam Swandi will relish the opportunity to win this competition again as the Sailors take a crack at winning the Cup for the first time.
- A seat at Asia’s top table
Every footballer dreams of competing against the best – and the ACL is the perfect platform for the Sailors to do just that. The cancellation of the AFC Cup last season robbed the club of the opportunity to taste continental football for the first time, so 2022’s debut at the pinnacle of Asian club football will be even sweeter when the competition kicks off in April.
This will take place in Buriram, Thailand, the centralised venue for Group F with the Sailors facing China’s Shandong Taishan, two-time ACL winners, Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan, and the winners of the playoff stage fixture between South Korea’s Daegu FC and Buriram United.
There is little doubt that these first steps in the ACL will prove a stern test, but it is a tantalising prospect to be able to face Asia’s elite. It is in the Sailors DNA to strive for excellence and stand up against the best in the business – and there is palpable excitement around the upcoming ACL debut.
- More for fans
The sensational support from the stands drove the Sailors across the finish line last year, and there is unanimous agreement within the club that you – the fan – will continue to be vital if the Sailors are to go even further in 2022.
Last year, the club moved to amp up the matchday experience at Jalan Besar Stadium to match the quality on the pitch. The Crew membership initiative was launched last year, and it has proved to be a hit with all of you. It has now been revamped to bring more value to all members with exclusive discounts and perks in 2022.
On top of that, online ticketing has also been introduced to make attending Sailors’ matches a breeze, while plans are also in the pipeline to further enhance the match-going experience at all home games.
Stay tuned to the Sailors’ online channels too – there will be plenty of exclusive and innovative content to get you up close and personal with your favourite players, and a better look below the deck of the Lion City Sailors.
Get your tickets here!