Albirex hungry for more after defending S.League title
White Swans vow to keep out complacency after sealing second straight S.League crown
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||WARRIORS FC|
|(Tsubasa Sano 13-pen, 15, 77, 87-pen, Hiroyoshi Kamata 20)||(Shahril Ishak 41-pen)|
The match had ended and Albirex Niigata's players lined up before their fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The club's players and officials broke into a little jig, a common routine for Albirex, and a common sight for fans who have witnessed the team win the lion's share of their games this year.
Just as captain Shuto Inaba led his men into the first steps of that dance, alarm bells rang at Singapore football's Jalan Besar headquarters - literally.
But it was perhaps the metaphorical alarm that screamed the loudest.
Last night's 5-1 win over the Warriors means they are the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League champions for the second year in a row.
And they are not done yet.
REIGN TO CONTINUE
Last year, the Japanese side won all four domestic titles on offer - Community Shield, The New Paper League Cup, RHB Singapore Cup and S.League - and they are on track to complete another Quadruple this season.
Local clubs have not found an answer to Albirex's dominance and, if the Japanese have their way, they want the reign to continue for many years.
"If you aim for mediocrity, you will get mediocre results. We exist in Singapore football to win trophies," said Koh Mui Tee, the club's vice-chairman, when asked if the club's target from now is a complete sweep of local football titles.
"Our spirit, our approach, will not change. We worked for 13 years to build a winning mentality and we know that success breeds more success, so we will keep at it."
S.League authorities will soon announce sweeping changes to the competition in a bid to stop the rot in Singapore football that has seen clubs and various national team set-ups suffer poor results.
But, even that will not stop Albirex.
"We will build a team who are capable of challenging because, simply put, we want to win things," said Koh.
The number of S.League games Albirex Niigata lost this season. Only the SAFFC (now Warriors FC) teams of 1999 and 2002, and the Home United team of 1999, have lost fewer games (one) in an entire season.
The number of players Albirex have used this season — the fewest in the S.League.
The number of games Albirex have consecutively won at their Jurong East Stadium home. The record stretches back to Nov 2015.
Albirex’s win percentage across all competitions this season.
The number of minutes between each goal Albirex have conceded in this S.League season.
Even with three titles already in the bag, Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga wants more.
He had set his charges a target of conceding only 12 goals in this season's 24 league games, and 60 points in total.
They have amassed 59 points and conceded 14 goals, with only one game left - against Geylang International on Nov 17.
He has vowed to put out his strongest team in that match "to end the season on a high", even though they have a Singapore Cup final against Philippine side Global Cebu on Nov 25.
Yoshinaga also rubbished suggestions that winning trophies in Singapore is too easy.
Instead, he stressed that Singapore is blessed with good footballers.
"The bit that Singapore football needs to improve on, is to get these players to play as a team," he said, revealing that he, too, has struggled to consistently get the best out of his players.
"Tactical awareness must improve and coaching ability must be raised to a whole other level. I want to see Singapore football succeed."
Warriors coach Razif Onn paid tribute to Albirex after the game.
He said: "It's not easy to close the gap with Albirex. I was in Japan in 1999 and I saw Under-12 boys playing with a lot of skill.
NEED TO REVAMP SYSTEM
"Look at our young players, and the poor results that we've had. We have to revamp the whole thing.
"Albirex players work hard and put in a lot of extra training on their own. They deserve to win. We have good players, but what's the point if they are not willing to work hard?
"They have discipline, good training methods and Albirex are fitter too.
"So, if we want to close the gap, maybe we need younger and fitter players in the clubs, so that we can compete with them."