Under the watchful eyes of new Head Coach Risto Vidaković, the Lion City Sailors have been hard at work for the past month as they look to gear up for the upcoming 2023 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season which is expected to kick off in late February.
The six players which were involved in Singapore’s recent AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup campaign have returned to training with the puzzle slowly coming together for Risto, who wants to set his team out to entertain with possession-based attacking football.
Captain Hariss Harun, Hafiz Nor, M. Anumanthan and Hami Syahin are joined by new signings Shawal Anuar and Christopher van Huizen as the Sailors’ Lions representatives returned to the fold this week to ramp up preparations for an important campaign ahead.
The latter duo is part of the group of eight new arrivals – the other six are below the age of 26 – in a refreshing 2023 roster for the Sailors, which sports a much youthful outlook – one that is hungry and determined to charge ahead to usher in a new era of success for the club.
Zharfan Rohaizad – who made the highest numbers of saves across the SPL last season for Tanjong Pagar United – adds depth to the Sailors goalkeeping department. He will compete with Rudy Khairullah and Adib Azahari for a starting spot, while Izwan Mahbud continues his recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
One of the country’s top defensive talents, Lionel Tan, provides defensive steel and stability to the Sailors, alongside the likes of Hariss, Pedro Henrique and Bill Mamadou.
The signing of Rusyaidi Salime gives the Sailors some much-needed bite in midfield beside Hami, Adam Swandi, and the versatile Anu.
Chris and Danish Qayyum joining the club means there are now options aplenty on the Sailors flanks, with Nur Adam Abdullah, Haiqal Pashia, Arshad Shamim and Zulqarnaen Suzliman all also champing at the bit to be starters for the team.
The Sailors look set to pose a serious threat to opposition defences with the presence of Kodai Tanaka, Shawal and rising talent Abdul Rasaq Akeem – more so with the effervescent Diego Lopes and last season’s top assist-provider Maxime Lestienne now more familiar with local football.
With a matter of weeks to the start of the new season, training intensity is steadily increasing but the Sailors class of 2023 is undaunted and has already begun to get to grips with the demands of Risto’s philosophy.
“Coach Risto wants us to play attacking football and keep the ball more often, that’s something which we’re working on and I’ve to say the progress has been good so far. Everyone has been very welcoming and we have already started to build good bonds within the squad,” said Rasaq.
“We have to keep going and continue to improve our chemistry so that we can be successful in the season ahead.”
Fellow new recruit Lionel, who is enjoying the start of his life with the Sailors, sang from the same hymn book.
“It’s been an eye-opener for me. Over here, we have a very structured program on how we’re building up to the season. Coach Risto is very direct and detailed on how we’re supposed to train and play – he has made it very clear what he wants the team to do,” said the former Singapore Under-23 international.
“The mood in the camp is really good, training has been fun and we’re all enjoying ourselves. This should always be what football is all about – we want to train hard, while having fun and looking forward to coming into work every single day.”
Nur Adam is already feeling the zest Lionel and the new boys bring to the dressing room, and the 21-year-old has no doubt that the positive vibe will provide an ideal platform for the team to launch a campaign to reclaim the SPL title in 2023.
“With new players coming in, it usually takes quite a while at the start of the season to come together as a unit but even at this point we’ve really bonded well. There are no egos and everyone is training hard and working towards the same end goal – to entertain the fans and deliver success for the club,” he said.
“The atmosphere is great and we’re adapting well to what Coach Risto has envisioned for us. It’s important we keep working on our fitness levels and improve our touches even more to be prepared for the season ahead.”
There will be an infusion of youth in the Sailors first team this year, with several talented boys from the Sailors’ Under-21 squad joining pre-season training and gunning for SPL debuts this season, if they continue to grow.
Despite his relative youth, Nur Adam is already into his third year at the club and relishing the added responsibility of being a leader. He has taken it upon himself to help those even younger than himself assimilate.
“I’m someone who likes to guide younger players, motivate them, and help them reach their maximum potential,” explained the 2021 SPL Young Player of the Year.
“I know there are high expectations for players here because we’re expected to win every match, but at the same time it’s important for youngsters to come through for the long-term future of the club. I see a lot of potential in our players here and we are definitely going on the right path.”