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SPL review: Sailors learn ‘instant success is a myth’

Since privatising the Lion City Sailors in 2020, owner Sea Limited has pumped in tens of millions of dollars to improve the club. Its efforts in sprucing up the Sailors’ training facilities, investing in sports science and data analytics, developing young talents, branding, as well as fan and community engagement must be lauded.

The Sailors also claimed two wins and a draw – a record for a Singaporean team – at the Asian Champions League (ACL) group stage.

However, they were given a reality check in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) as an “unacceptable” run of four straight losses in their last six games derailed their title defence.

Perhaps, the wheels started to come off when they parted ways with Kim Do-hoon after his touchline clash with Tampines assistant coach Mustafic Fahrudin in July. This was the second time they had to change their head coach during a season.

Interim coach Luka Lalic, who took over from Kim, admitted he may have pushed the team too hard in training as his side lost 3-1 to Geylang International in September, sparking the four-match losing run as injuries started creeping in.

While the Sailors’ signings such as Belgian winger Maxime Lestienne brought about a buzz of excitement and a record 23 assists, others such as former South Korea striker Kim Shin-wook missed many more chances than those he put away. Several Singapore internationals have also not been consistent enough.

Sailors chief executive officer Chew Chun-Liang was candid in his assessment of their season and acknowledged how the perfect storm of “unfortunate” incidents led to their “failure”.

He said: “It would be easy to finger the coaching situation at the club, even individual performances, or a phase of poor results. But when you start to pen that list of what would be most obviously construed as the key reasons behind our failure to retain the SPL title, the list starts to lengthen the more you think about it.

“This exercise then brings us back to fundamentals – of systems, processes and mindset – and the clear understanding that instant success is a myth. To build that culture of winning takes more than just bringing the best together, it requires the best to adopt the same spirit and the same way of getting things done.

“There are several examples from the region and across the globe that clearly illustrate that even if you assemble the best staff and squad – even personnel who are perhaps just beyond the realm of reality for your club at that point – there is no guarantee of immediate and consistent success.”

He assured that the Sailors will continue to work on building long-term and sustained success, and try to bounce back in the Oct 27-Nov 19 Singapore Cup, where they have been grouped with Albirex, Balestier Khalsa and Young Lions.

“This year has been a lesson for us – that our internal processes need to ladder up to our broad strategy and vision – and this goes across the various verticals in the club from the backroom to the boardroom.

Adding that this year has been a “lesson” for the Sailors, Chew said: “We are in the process of re-assessing how we do things, and how we fine-tune these processes to be able to hit the heights of performance standards we witnessed at a couple of matches during April’s ACL campaign.”

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