Just 75 hours after being unveiled as the Lion City Sailors Head Coach, Aleksandar Ranković will be patrolling the sidelines of the Jurong East Stadium, pulling the strings as his new charges face Tanjong Pagar United in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

The Saturday (1 July) fixture against a resilient and robust Jaguars will be no walk in the park, but the Serb is champing at the bit to get started.

“I’m very excited that I can be on the bench with the team and also on the field for this week’s training where we’re going to prepare our game plan and work on the way we want to play,” said the 44-year-old.

There has not been much time between his Wednesday (28 June) appointment and Saturday evening’s kickoff to implement his vision of football, but while Ranko is clear that a sustained charge towards the SPL title is key, the Sailors must start to deliver on performance as well.

“There is not so much time to change a lot of philosophy about the way we are playing because we are in the middle of the season, but I will add some of my own ingredients in,” said the former ADO Den Haag head coach.  

“I say this all the time, I am Serbian by origin, but I am a Dutch football coach: we want to dominate the game from the start and keep possession of the ball as long as possible.”

The Sailors are third in the nine-team SPL standings on 33 points, one behind second-placed Tampines Rovers, with league leaders Albirex Niigata (S) on 37 points in what is a tight three-horse race for the SPL title.

Skipper Hariss Harun warned that the Sailors must stay focused throughout the 90 minutes in the Jaguars den, or risk coming up short.

“Tanjong Pagar is no easy opponent, they can be tricky, and always make things difficult for us whenever we play them, especially at Jurong East and we need to keep our heads focused on the task ahead,” said the 32-year-old.

“Their physicality is one of their significant strengths. They have some physical players who can try to provoke and try to make us uncomfortable on the pitch. We just have to keep our heads in check, be cool and play our game.”

While he is confident that the quality in the Sailors’ squad means the team is well-equipped to face the challenges that the SPL will pose, Ranko is taking nothing for granted.

“I think every team, not just Tanjong Pagar, will be raring to go against us. We are in the middle of the season now, and I’m sure that every game is going to be very challenging from now on,” he said.

“But whenever we play, I want to show all our opponents that we are the ones who are going to be in charge of the game, dominating from the start.”