Inaba hopes for a J.League call-up
Inaba hopes another season of S.League dominance will earn a call-up to parent club in Japan
He is one of only six players left from last year's quadruple-winning side.
Despite helping Albirex Niigata to an unprecedented four-trophy sweep last year, Shuto Inaba insists that the fire is still burning in his belly.
The aim is, of course, to prove that 2016 was no fluke, starting with beating Tampines Rovers and getting their hands on the Great Eastern Community Shield at the National Stadium tomorrow.
But Inaba, who took over captain's armband this season, has higher aspirations - he dreams of donning the Albirex jersey in the J.League.
"I want to earn a transfer to Albirex Niigata in Japan, like Atsushi Kawata did - that is my personal aim for the year," the 23-year-old midfielder told The New Paper yesterday.
Kawata plundered 20 goals in all competitions last year, en route to being named the S.League's Player of the Year before he was whisked away to join Albirex's parent club in the J.League.
Eager to follow in his former teammate's footsteps, Inaba will approach the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League season with vigour, but he added that his drive is matched by his new teammates.
"We are a serious bunch, we've shown that in our approach to pre-season training, and we want to win all four titles on offer," he said.
"We had a strong team last year, and that was why we were able to win all the four titles.
THE COACH SAYS: This is not only the first match of the new S.League season, there is also a trophy to be won... I’ve not seen a single match from last year, so I can’t say if we’ll play different, but we will do it my way.Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga
"This year, we have a team with an equally high technical level, and I believe we can win things again."
Tomorrow's clash against Tampines will be Albirex's first competitive match of the year but, as a testament to their seriousness, the White Swans have already undergone 47 training sessions since the start of their pre-season programme on Jan 7.
And, despite having 17 new faces in their squad who are getting accustomed to life in a new country, Inaba believes they are ready to go.
Indeed, the process of helping their new teammates acclimatise has been an important part of Albirex's pre-season.
"The team have bonded because the senior players have had to communicate a lot with the new players, to teach them everything we know about Singapore and Singapore football, and I think they've already got used to how things work here," said Inaba.
"More importantly, that has helped build team spirit."
Albirex are now under the charge of 48-year-old Kazuaki Yoshinaga, who took over from S.League Coach of the Year Naoki Naruo.
While the new-look White Swans camp was tight-lipped about the brand of football they will play this year, Inaba hinted at an attacking approach.
"I like how football is played in (Italy's) Serie A," he said, when asked to describe his favoured brand of football.
"I like the defensive style that Italian teams adopt, and I like those games that end with a 1-0 scoreline, but I don't think that's boring at all."
"But I don't want my coach to hear me say that," added Inaba, who glanced at Yoshinaga seated beside him before bursting out in laughter.
THREE TO WATCH
1) Ryota Nakai (attacking midfielder)
A very technical player who plays in the No. 10 role for Albirex. He is comfortable on the ball, has the ability to control the game and promises to be an entertaining player to watch.
2) Yuuki Yamanouchi (defensive midfielder)
Shuto Inaba's partner in the engine room of the new-look White Swans possesses both aerial prowess and solid ground strokes. He is an accurate passer and a good header of the ball.
3) Yasutaka Yanagi (central defender)
Big, strong and powerful in the air, Albirex expect the 1.87m-tall defender to clear the aerial threat posed by Tampines. He's a monster in the White Swans' backline.