Lion City Sailors sign Australian striker Ibini to replace injured Tanaka
SINGAPORE - The Lion City Sailors are set to add Australian striker Bernie Ibini to their forward line for the 2023 Singapore Premier League (SPL) season.
The 30-year-old has been a free agent after being released by Australian A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers in May 2022.
He has been provisionally registered with the SPL after the Sailors submited details ahead of the league’s transfer deadline day on March 19. The Straits Time understands that the Sailors are awaiting final paperwork before announcing Ibini as their latest signing.
The Sailors said in a statement on Wednesday: “We are focused on ensuring that Kodai gets the best possible support to ensure that he returns as quickly and as safely as possible. Even as Kodai works his way back to the pitch, the club remains committed to our target of challenging for the Singapore Premier League title.”
The club added that they are “always open to additions and improvements” and will make “any announcements at the appropriate time”.
The signing will come as a boost to the Sailors’ title hopes after they were dealt a major blow barely a month into the SPL campaign when Japanese striker Kodai Tanaka was ruled out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Tanaka, 23, who is the league’s reigning Player of the Year, was injured during Sailors’ 4-0 loss to Albirex Niigata on March 9.
Ibini joins a Sailors foreign line-up that includes Belgian winger Maxime Lestienne, Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes and their recent addition, Spanish centre-back Manuel Herrera Lopez.
Brazilian defender Pedro Henrique, who signed a three-year deal in 2022, is still contracted to the club but is not registered for the 2023 season.
With the exception of Albirex and developmental side Young Lions, SPL clubs can sign up to four foreigners with at least one player belonging to an Asian Football Confederation nation, of which Australia is a part of.
Ibini, who is 1.87m, can play as a winger or a striker and is said to be a powerful and quick presence up front. It is understood that he is already in Singapore and is awaiting clearance to link up with the squad.
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, he migrated to Sydney as a child and rose to prominence with Central Coast Mariners in the A-League, where he made his senior debut as a 17-year-old in 2010.
Ibini, who has two caps for Australia, has also played for Shanghai Dongya FC (now known as Shanghai Port FC) in the Chinese Super League, the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer and with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the K League 1, where he won the league title in 2018.
He made his name back home with 35 goals and 15 assists across 165 matches with the likes of Wanderers, Mariners, Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets. In 256 career appearances, he has 40 goals and 24 assists.
The Sailors are currently second in the nine-team SPL table with four wins from their five matches as they look to recapture the SPL crown that they lost to Albirex in 2022.