There were 62 minutes on the clock at the Bishan Stadium when the assistant referee held up the electronic board to signal the entry of jersey no. 27. And the long wait was finally over.

The Lion City Sailors’ 4-0 victory over Geylang International in the Singapore Premier League last weekend marked Adam Swandi’s successful return to competitive action, after 15 months away due to a serious knee ligament injury.

For the talented midfielder, there was no better feeling than being back on the pitch doing what he loves most, especially after what was a tough rehabilitation process.

“There were a lot of things going through my mind when I was preparing to come on. I was definitely worried, but the strongest feeling was the excitement to return to playing competitively,” said the 24-year-old, who thoroughly enjoyed his 30-minute run out.

“It went as well as I could have hoped: We dominated the game and managed to get all three points. It definitely felt like all the months in rehab paid off because it was such a long period, with disruptions to the process too, during the Circuit Breaker.”

Adam is now hell-bent on going a step further and secure a starting berth. But he is aware that the league’s requirement of at least three Under-23 players in the starting eleven, and the sheer number of quality attackers in the Sailors ranks mean he may have to bide his time.

“Of course, my main target this year is to go back to the levels I was at before, and I think I will definitely get my opportunity. That’s when I have to capitalize and show that I am worthy of a starting position, or at least be a regular sub for the club,” said the former FC Metz trainee.

“I know the U23 ruling will affect the decisions made by the coaches, but I’m determined to do my best in the hope that I’ll be given an important role in the team.”

So far Adam is enjoying life under the experienced Aurelio Vidmar, noting that the Australian is not just a ‘one-way’ coach.

“He’s someone who’s open to a lot of options and changes. He’s not the kind who says something and everyone has to just do it. To me, that’s a very good approach in modern football and we’re learning a lot from him every single day,” said Adam.

After the euphoria of a first win, the Sailors have to buckle down – they next face second-placed Albirex Niigata (S) in the SPL on Saturday evening.

The Japanese satellite club are one of the two remaining unbeaten sides – along with Brunei DPMM – and are the current league’s top scorers with 12 goals from four matches.

Adam, of course, knows the White Swans well, having spent a year with Albirex in 2018 where he was part of that all-conquering squad that went the entire season undefeated en route to clinching the league title. Albirex made a clean sweep of all domestic titles on offer, winning the Community Shield and the Singapore Cup.

“It was memorable not to lose a game all season, but it wasn’t as beautiful as it looked,” he reflected. “From the outside, it seems like everything is just very flowery. But there was huge pressure because all the players and staff had stated the goal was to win all games.

“I remember when we had our first draw of the season, it felt like a loss and felt like as if we had lost the title altogether.”

But the year provided win after win for Adam, including one on the personal front. His excellent performances won him the Young Player of the Year award.

Adam readily acknowledged that his spell with Albirex taught him huge lessons and also helped him mature as a player.

“The key takeaways for me was to take every training session as a match and to always fight to be the best player in the team in your position – that’s the mentality that Albirex instilled in me,” he said.

“Every year, the players that come into Albirex Singapore are very driven in their mindset because they know this is the stepping stone for them to achieve bigger things in their professional careers.”

The bulk of that 2018 Albirex squad has since either returned to Japan to play in the lower leagues or are plying their trade in other parts of the world. Only four from that team are still playing in Singapore.

Utility man Hiroyoshi Kamata is the only one still on the books of the White Swans and is now into his fifth season in Singapore. Centre-back Kaishu Yamazaki is now reunited with Adam at the Sailors, while forward Shuhei Hoshino is now with Balestier Khalsa.

“Hiro’s a super versatile player who can play anywhere. He’s physically small, but he makes up for it with his tireless runs and he’s just everywhere on the pitch. He is very unselfish and a brilliant team player,” analysed Adam.

“As for Kaishu, it feels good now that we’re in the same team again because that year we enjoyed a good connection. He was the left-sided centre back and I was playing left wing, so he played some great long balls to me,” Adam recalled.

“Although we haven’t played together for the Sailors yet, once we get the opportunity, I’m sure we’ll be able to show what we’re capable of.”

It looks like a tough match awaits the Sailors this Saturday, but Adam believes the presence of new Sailors signing Stipe Plazibat could tip the scales.

“Everyone in this league knows that Stipe is a natural finisher who simply knows how to put the ball into the back of the net,” said Adam.

“With him in the team, we have got every chance to win. Of course, we must also match Albirex’s hunger and it’s important we perform on the day.”