He joined the Lion City Sailors in 2020 with the lofty aim of winning trophies and achieving success with the club.

Today, with a top scorer award, a Singapore Premier League (SPL) winners medal, and the adoration of the Sailors fans in tow, there is no doubt that Stipe Plazibat has accomplished his goals at the club.

But sadly, Stipe’s voyage with the Sailors is set to come to an end.

The Croatian will officially leave the Sailors when his contract ends in December, with the club deciding to go in a different direction ahead of the 2022 season.

Rightly regarded as one of the best strikers in the SPL at the moment, Stipe will be leaving the Sailors as the club’s reigning top scorer with 23 goals across two seasons.

But the 32-year-old is more than just a prolific goalscorer. His work ethic, consummate professionalism, intelligence on and off the ball, and eye for a pass – he recorded seven assists in the SPL this season alone – has made him a favourite both in the dressing room, as well as among the Sailors fans.

Reflecting on his two years at the club, Stipe, who played an integral role in the Sailors’ historic SPL title win this year, said: “I am proud to have been part of this new and ambitious club, and that I was able to play a vital role in achieving our first league title.

“My target was winning trophies with the club, and we managed to do it this year. Winning the SPL title has undoubtedly been the highlight of my time at the Sailors.

“On an individual level, I won the golden boot last year, I was in the SPL Team of the Year for the past two seasons, and I believe that I have become more mature, both on and off the pitch.

“So yes, I have definitely achieved the goals that I set for myself when I first joined the club.”

Stipe’s contributions to the Sailors extends beyond the pitch, with the Split native having taken the time to mentor several of the club’s promising young talents.

“I’m happy to have played a role in helping some of the club’s young players like Saifullah Akbar and Nur Adam in their development,” Stipe revealed. “To see them win the SPL Young Player of the Year awards (in 2020 and 2021 respectively) makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something more meaningful than just on-pitch success.

“I may be leaving the club, but I’m confident that, with the SPL title and the guidance I’ve provided for the young players, I’ve left a good legacy behind.”

And while Stipe might have only been a Sailor for two years, he has formed strong bonds with several of his teammates and staff, as he said: “I will miss my close friends at the club, like Song (Ui-Young), Hariss (Harun), Gabriel (Quak), and Mario (Jovanovic). The friendship that we have is not something you can find every day, so I really treasure it.”

Song, who hailed Stipe’s impact on the Sailors, backed his close friend to continue performing at the highest level at his next club.

“He (Stipe) has consistently been among the top scorers in Singapore for many seasons now,” said Song. “He has always displayed his professionalism, passion for the team, and he was a big part of our title win this year.

“I believe that he will continue his good form and performances for many more years, and I wish my brate (Croatian slang for ‘brother’) all the very best.”

Gabriel admitted that he would miss having Stipe around at the club, especially as the duo had developed an almost telepathic connection.

“Over the past two years, we’ve formed a good partnership, not only on the pitch, but off it as well,” said Gabriel. “We became really good friends, and I think that translated into our good chemistry when we played…you can see that for many of our goals, we provided assists for each other.

“I definitely enjoyed playing with him, and I’m proud to call him my partner on the pitch. He’s played such a crucial role for us, being our top scorer, and it’ll be sad to see him leave.

“I wish him all the best for the future, and would also like to congratulate him on the recent birth of his child. And even though he’s leaving the club, we will definitely still keep in touch with each other.”

Apart from being a well-liked and respected member of the squad, Stipe was also a popular figure among the Sailors fans.

Expressing his deepest appreciation to ‘The Crew’ for supporting him unconditionally during his time at the club, Stipe said: “I would like to thank all the fans for their amazing support. I am happy that we were able to give them a reason to celebrate, and to believe in Singapore football again. I wish them and the Sailors all the best.”

For now, Stipe remains unsure as to what the future holds for his career. While admitting that a move abroad would be the most likely outcome, he is not ruling out the possibility of staying in Singapore and playing for another SPL club.

“My next move depends on what opportunities I receive, and most probably that will come from abroad,” Stipe mused. “But never say never – I may still stay in Singapore yet. For now, though, I am just enjoying my time at home with my wife, our new-born baby, and my family.”

No matter what happens next, however, Stipe will remain an indelible part of Sailors’ history.

From everyone at the Lion City Sailors, thank you, Stipe Plazibat. All the best, and bon voyage!