As Song Uiyoung stepped into the Lion City Sailors Training Centre ahead of his official unveiling as the club’s latest signing, his eyes lit up at the sight of the familiar crest adorning the entrance.

“Wow, I’ve missed this (place),” he exclaimed with a grin on his face.

The wide smile on Song’s face said it all as he greeted the Sailors’ first team, Academy, and corporate staff on his way in.

He was home. The Sailors’ favourite son had returned.

“I’ve been here for many years; I’m very familiar with the staff and management here and we created many good memories together – winning the SPL (Singapore Premier League), competing in the ACL (Asian Football Confederation Champions League) – so there are no doubt or hesitation in my mind about coming back here,” said Song.

“I really feel like I’m back home and back to the family now, so I’m very happy.” 

When Song left for Nongbua Pitchaya in January 2023, he mentioned in his farewell interview with the Sailors that he hoped to get the opportunity to play for the club again one day. By his own admission, however, his return to the club just 14 months on had come slightly earlier than expected. 

“Honestly, I thought I’m going to be overseas for at least two or three years before coming back to Singapore. But this is the life of a footballer, you know? Nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future,” he mused.

“But I’ve no regrets. I’m very happy to be back. I’m ready to work and fight together with my teammates here.”

Song’s journey post-Sailors saw him play in two of the most football-crazy Southeast Asian nations Thailand and Indonesia last year.

Song scored on his Nongbua debut against Bangkok United, and played a total of eight games in Thai League 1. But the club’s relegation to the second-tier meant he was allowed to leave on a free transfer due to a clause in his contract.    

The Singapore international went to Indonesia in mid-2023 to join Persebaya Surabaya. His signing proved to be popular with the Persebaya fans, such that security had to escort him out of the venue following his unveiling at a club sponsor event. The shop was reportedly filled with over 200 fans, with more clamouring to squeeze in.

In the Liga 1, Song scored one stunning long-range match-winning goal against PSM Makassar and made a total of 17 appearances. The majority of his appearances saw him play in a deep defensive midfield role, and he was even deployed at centre-back for one game.

“It was a great experience for me – I had the opportunity to learn from players and coaches from a totally different culture as compared to Singapore,” Song recalled.

“I had to learn and adapt to play in different team formations and tactical shapes. It gave me a better and broader perspective of football. I also felt I matured and became a better person outside the pitch as well. So, I have to say it was a good choice for me (to venture out of Singapore).”

Song had previously spoken about getting out of his comfort zone as the motivation to leave Singapore – a place he has called home for the past 11 years. 

“Obviously I needed some time to adapt and I did struggle a bit in Thailand and Indonesian football,” Song admitted. “I felt insecure, but at the same time, I really tried my best to learn as much as I coulds and give my best every day.

“Looking back now, I feel these challenges have made me a better person and a better player. I wouldn’t say I succeeded there, but I also wouldn’t say I failed. For me, it was a great learning experience, and I’ve no regrets.”

Having played for the Sailors since its inception, Song has remained a fan of the club throughout, even when he was away. He revealed that he watched most of the Sailors’ games via live stream, and was delighted to witness the team make history at the tail-end of 2023 with their first-ever Singapore Cup triumph.  

Even so, Song admitted to being pleasantly surprised at how much the club has changed over the past year or so.

For one, the Sailors Training Centre is now up and running, with the first team training mainly on the hybrid pitch. The team is now also taking shape under the tutelage of former FC Utrecht assistant coach Aleksandar Ranković, and boasts the addition of several players with European pedigree such as Bart Ramselaar, Toni Datković and Rui Pires.

The infusion of youth talent – with players like Nur Muhammad Asis and Nathan Mao making the step up from the Sailors’ Elite Academy to the first team – also means Song will be tasked to take these youngsters under his wing.  

“I can see a very good picture for the future of what we want to build as a team here. This is the proper process – developing young players from the academy to be a big part of the professional team one day,” Song reflected.

“Being one of the senior players, I want to help these young players explore and achieve their maximum potential. But at the same time, I feel I can also be positively influenced by them as well. I’m looking forward to working together with them, while having healthy competition with them for a spot in the first eleven.”

With Song turning 31 in November, he is looking forward to winding down his career with the Sailors and helping the club achieve more in the coming years.   

“If I retire with the Sailors, I’ll be a happy man. But for now, I’m ready to put my best efforts for the club – this coming season, we want to win all three domestic trophies and do well in the ACL2. We want to be one of the top clubs in the region and I’ll do everything in my power to help us get there,” he emphasised.

And Song is already champing at the bit to walk out at Bishan Stadium again in the Sailors’ signature white and blue colours.

“I’m looking forward to that moment already – it’s like a child waiting for a picnic, you know?” he joked. “I’ve been so blessed with the big support from the fans – when I’m playing abroad, I’ve received many messages from them (on Instagram) telling me to come back and play for the Sailors in the SPL.

“Now I’m back, I’m really looking forward to seeing these familiar faces at the stadium and I promise that I’m going to try very hard on the field to make them happy.”