ALBIREX GUN FOR MORE
They finished third last season, and they are hungry for more, even suggesting the title is their target.
But, with so many changes to personnel, no one will know for sure how Albirex Niigata will fare in the 2014 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
The Japanese outfit joined the S.League in 2004 and are the longest-serving foreign club in the competition.
They have never lifted the title, though, primarily because the developmental squad of the parent club in the J-League side blood new players in Singapore almost every season.
It is no different this year, with only eight players from last season's squad of 23 still around.
They even have a new coach, with Tatsuyuki Okuyama taking over from Koichi Sugiyama.
Speaking at a press conference last night at the Jalan Besar Stadium, a bullish Okuyama said: "We are confident that we can go for the title after finishing second runners-up the past two seasons.
"While the players are very young, they are technically skilled.
"The challenge will be to make up for the lack of experience with better organisation on the field and playing together as a team."
Albirex unveiled their new squad yesterday to around 100 people, made up of sponsors, partners as well as officials from the S.League and the Football Association of Singapore.
They also unveiled Mafro as their new kit sponsors.
This is the first time midfielder Kazuya Okazaki will get a taste of professional football in Singapore.
Said the 22-year-old: "I am looking forward to playing with the team here in Singapore.
"Hopefully, I can help them score goals and become the champions this season, like the coach and chairman said."
One player who will be familiar to local fans will be striker Kazuki Sakamoto.
The 23-year-old was top scorer for the team with 14 goals last season, and Okuyama singled him out as the player to watch this year.
"He's a very good finisher and very agile. I hope he becomes an example for the newer players," he said.
Albirex open their campaign with a home clash against Brunei's DPMM FC at Jurong East Stadium on Saturday.
They will want to kick off with a win, especially at home, to provide the ideal confidence boost for their youngsters for the rest of the season.
Even with a team with an average age of just 22, striker Sakamoto said that they are up to the task.
"With our young team, we plan to have more of an attacking style of play, so it is more attractive to the fans," he said.
Our target for this year is to become champions of the S.League. With the support of all the fans and the young players we have now, I know we can do it this time.
- Albirex Niigata chairman Daisuke Korenaga, in his speech last night at the Jalan Besar Stadium
FOR THE FANS
Each Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season, Albirex Niigata have introduced various initiatives to attract fans to their home games at Jurong East Stadium.
This year is no different.
Said team manager Yeo Jun Xian yesterday: "Our plan is to have a specific theme for every game, for example, during school holidays we plan on having football clinics for the younger fans on match days, and we will invite them to watch the game right after."
The team also plan to have fans play a short game on the field during the half-time break.
"This is so the fans have the whole experience of not only watching, but also playing football." said Yeo.
"Then they'll know what it's like to play on the field, just like the professionals."
Venga primed for Tigers' talent hunt
He loves the game, and having grown up in the Yishun-Sembawang area - the traditional hotbed of Singapore football - R Vengadasalam has scouted and helped the growth of young talent like Masrezwan Masturi, Fadhil Salim and Jeykanth Jeyapal.
Balestier Khalsa chairman, S Thavaneson, is convinced hiring the former Woodlands Wellington manager will boost the S.League club.
Venga (inset, below), 53, has been named manager of Balestier's Prime League team, and has already signed some youngsters whom Thavaneson says have a chance of going far.
Former Youth Olympic Games starlet Hanafi Akbar joined the club last December, while several former National Football League (NFL) players have also signed terms with the Toa Payoh-based club.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Thavaneson said: "Venga brings to us a very deep, detailed knowledge of football, especially youth football.
"Before the S.League, he was scouting a lot of young talent around Singapore. He's got the eye and he's able to convince these young players to join our Prime League set-up."
Venga, whose last involvement in the S.League was in 2008 as general manager of Tampines Rovers, is relishing the new challenge.
"I really missed my local football, especially watching and discovering young players," he said.
"I've been working very closely with Thava the past few months. We are not content with just having a Prime League side - we want a team of players who can challenge for S.League places.
"Right now, we have maybe six players who can easily make the jump from the Prime League to S.League."
Thava credits the club's recent success at the prime league level as a reason young footballers are looking at Balestier.
The Under-21 side finished champions for the past two years and won the Singapore FA Cup in 2012.
The bulk of players from the previous squad have left with former coach Kevin Wee for Warriors FC, but Thavaneson claims the new crop, led by coach D Tokijan, is better.
"This new batch is technically better," he said. "Many of these boys are joining us because they have seen how directly involved the coaches and club officials are with the Prime League.
"They see our collaboration with the ITEs, which shows our commitment towards grooming future stars."
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