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Competing on 4 fronts, Tampines Rovers still aiming to win every game

Coach Lee believes the solution to losing star Shahdan is the collective and a winning mentality

Tampines Rovers are hoping to go one better than last year, as they gear up for the new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.

But, to improve on last season's second-placed league finish and the Singapore Cup win, coach Gavin Lee will first have to address the gaping void left behind by star man Shahdan Sulaiman.

        AFC CUP, GROUP H

The 31-year old, who was one of three nominees for the SPL's Player of the Year award and was Tampines' Player of the Year, has joined Home United.

Shahdan, a stalwart for the national team as well, is regarded as one of the best playmakers in the league.

Instead of opting for a like-for-like replacement, Lee believes his best solution comes from the collective.

Speaking to The New Paper at Our Tampines Hub, Lee name-checked new signings Huzaifah Aziz, former Albirex Niigata captain Kyoga Nakamura and two young players from last season - Shah Shahiran, 20, and Serbian import Zehrudin Mehmedovic, 21.

Tonight, fans will be able to catch them in action when the Stags kick off their AFC Cup campaign against Indonesian side PSM Makassar at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Said Lee: "Everyone knows Shahdan's quality. He is someone who is a starter in almost every team in this region and last year, he helped us to do well. It is a disappointment (to lose him) but that's football - you just have to move on.

"We can't replace him with another player. It doesn't quite work that way. What we have done is to bring in players that I feel can give us different solutions to that problem.

"Kyoga provides us unique skill sets, Mehmedovic will step up to a bigger role this year because while he did well for us last year, people forget just how young he is.

"Shah did well last year and this is an opportunity for him to progress even further. Huzaifah is also a good addition and offers us something from midfield that we didn't have last year.

"We are very excited for the season ahead with these boys."

Besides replacing Shahdan, Lee will also have to make the most of his squad depth, as Tampines will be competing on four fronts this year - the SPL, Singapore Cup, AFC Cup and the new Asean Club Championship (ACC).

The ACC, scheduled to kick off in April, is a competition among the top teams from Asean leagues.

It promises lucrative rewards, with reports stating that teams who exit at the group stage will receive a minimum of US$100,000 (S$139,000).

Losing semi-finalists will get US$130,000, runners-up US$260,000 and the winners pocketing at least US$400,000.

The Stags' evergreen defender Daniel Bennett, 42, has called on his side's youth players to step up and be counted.

He said: "We have lots of games coming up this year and we will have to count on the young boys to step up and perform.

"It is what the league wants anyway, with them pushing for a younger base of players at the club. Hopefully, the boys can grab the chance.

"Some of them are really young and inexperienced and we don't have that much depth but it's what we have to work with.

"The ACC is still some time away, so we have to focus on the now and I don't know much about the new tournament and how serious some of the other countries are going to take it."

Lee, meanwhile, wants his players to adopt a mentality of going into every game with a focus on winning - regardless of who their opponents are and which competition they are taking part in.

He said: "There are a lot of games but it is a privilege. We'd rather play than not play.

"We have a strong core of senior players. We have had a bulk of the Under-21 squad training with me, so we will have to rely on them later on as well. They will have to contribute to our journey this year.

"Our AFC Cup games... have shown us that matches against Vietnamese and Indonesian sides are something to look forward to. I am sure the boys are really motivated to play at those arenas and stage.

"But, for us, the main thing is to go out there and keep looking to win every game that we play."


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