S.League champions Albirex Niigata (S) unveiled Adam Swandi and Shahul Rayyan – their first-ever Singaporean signings – on Monday with a bigger goal on the horizon.
Up till last year, the White Swans – who have won all four trophies on offer in Singaporean football in the last two seasons – have fielded an all-Japanese team since their debut in 2004.
However, all that will change this year as they unveiled attacking midfielder Adam and goalkeeper Rayyan as part of their squad for the 2018 season.
Adam will wear the No. 10 jersey for Albirex and has been tipped to play a key role, while Rayyan could taste first-team action but is expected to learn from first-choice veteran Yosuke Nozawa.
Nonetheless, while signing local players represents Albirex fulfilling the next step in their quest to aid the development of Singaporean football, chairman Daisuke Korenaga revealed there is more to come.
“The objective of Albirex in the S.League is to help develop football in Singapore which, in other words, is to help strengthen the national team,” said Korenaga.
“Since 2004, we have been working hard towards building a strong team to provide a real challenge to the local clubs.
“Our successful seasons in 2016 and 2017 prove that we have met this objective so, from 2018 – with the changes to the S.League with the age restrictions, we considered that it’s the appropriate time to contribute more directly to the Singapore national team by recruiting two Singapore players.
“Our record for developing young players is well-recognised in Japan and our next step is to groom Singaporeans players ourselves and bring them to the J.League.
“We don’t want to be known as just a foreign club in the S.League; we have vision and have taken action to contribute to the development of Singaporean football in many areas – that is the reason for our existence.”
While Adam will have big boots to fill as he replaces Kento Nagasaki – last year’s S.League Player of the Year – the 21-year-old is relishing the challenge.
“Firstly, I would like to say I’m very thankful for this opportunity to be playing for Albirex and want to thank chairman Korenaga-san and general manager Koh Mui Tee for believing in me,” said the Singapore international, who was once on the books of French side Metz.
“It wasn’t an easy decision after I had a good 2017 with Home United but it’s also really difficult to say no when his kind of offer comes your way.
“As a young player, I think I need to step out of my comfort zone and come to a club like Albirex with a high level of professionalism.
“We all know about Kento being the best player in the S.League last year.
“He’s truly a player with quality and real technical ability and, like me, not physically big so he’s someone I look up to and I would like to emulate him.
“I’m sure the club and the coach [Kazuaki Yoshinaga] will be able to guide me to be the No. 10 for the team and I hope to be as influential as Kento.”
And while Rayyan could find himself having to bide his time this season, a strong showing could just see him emerge as the long-term successor to 38-year-old Nozawa.
“I’m thankful to Albirex for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of the club,” said the former Warriors FC custodian, who will only be eligible to play after his completes his mandatory National Service in May.
“I’m going to grab this chance with both hands and make full use of it and, if all of us give 100 per cent, I don’t see why we can’t win the league and cup again.”
Photo credit: Playmaker