After a tough couple of weeks pushing physical boundaries in pre-season training, Hariss Harun and the Lion City Sailors stand on the threshold of the 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season, and will face Albirex Niigata (S) in Saturday’s AIA Community Shield, its traditional curtain raiser.

The Sailors’ skipper is determined for the team to start the domestic football season on the right foot – against a White Swans side that pushed the title race down to the wire in 2021 – and he believes that the Sailors must win the mental side of the game if they are to retain their SPL crown. 

“We are acutely aware that it is going to be a challenging season ahead, because teams always have extra motivation when playing against the defending champions, and every SPL team has already made moves to strengthen their squads,” said the 31-year-old. 

“To handle everything that will come at us this year, we will need to win the mental battle in our own heads from the start.” 

The Sailors have the opportunity to win the club’s second trophy – the Community Shield – just some four months after their first SPL title, and Hariss was clear that the target for 2022 must be to try and win every domestic title on offer. 

“We’re aiming for excellence and to raise the bar for ourselves and Singapore football, to do that we have to go out and win matches consistently,” said the captain of Singapore’s Lions. 

“We have expectations of ourselves, and there will of course be external pressures placed on us as well – and we haven’t even started talking about the football side of things yet. 

“We’ll need level heads if we do find that games are not going our way, and we will also need to keep our heads even when we’re winning, to make sure that we can close out games. So simply put, every Sailor will need to have the right mentality from the get go.” 

The signs are positive. 

In 2021, the Sailors were made to dig deep – chasing down then league leaders Albirex with three games to go at the business end of the season –  and found cool heads and steely nerves.

Hariss and company won three games on the trot, convincingly beating Tampines Rovers 6-1, overcoming Geylang International at Our Tampines Hub, then sealed the title with a 4-1 victory over Balestier Khalsa on the final day of the season. 

It is that same resilience and calm that Hariss believes will put the Sailors in good stead for another successful domestic football season. 

“We’ve shown that we have what it takes, and from how the team is shaping up in pre-season, I’m feeling positive about the new season. The new signings have settled in well, and we’re all pushing each other at training sessions,” said Hariss. 

“With the work that we’ve put in, I think we’ll be able to play at a higher intensity, with more speed and sharpness too. And with the added aerial threat that (Kim) Shin-wook brings with him, there are various dimensions to our game.” 

Alongside South Korean international forward Kim, the Sailors have signed Brazilian defender Pedro Henrique and Belgium’s Maxime Lestienne, adding European top-fight pedigree to the squad. 

Singapore internationals Izwan Mahbud and M Anumanthan are the Sailors’ two other major signings ahead of a season that will see the club make its maiden appearance in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL). 

“We want to give a good account of ourselves at the ACL, test ourselves to see where we stand against the region’s best, and just what we need to do to play at that level,” said Hariss. 

“It’s clear to me that we have the right ingredients in place for both the SPL and the ACL, and we’ll just need to put everything together consistently – and the first step to that is to approach it all with the right mentality.”