Singapore football: 2017 in review

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

There was a serious case of déjà vu in Singapore football this year with a foreign side winning every trophy on offer and the national team struggling for form once again.

As they did in 2016, Albirex Niigata (S) emerged as the dominant side on the domestic stage even with new coach and players, winning the S.League, Singapore Cup, League Cup and Community Shield.

The likes of Tampines Rovers and Home United deserve some credit for applying pressure along the way, although the White Swans never really looked troubled if we are being honest.

In case you missed it…
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On the international front, no wins in 11 matches – seven of which being defeats – meant another miserable year for the Singapore national team.

Despite all the doom and gloom, did any positives emerge for Singapore football from 2017? FOX Sports Asia investigates.

WHAT HAPPENED AT HOME

As previously mentioned, Albirex swept aside all comers as they completed the quadruple for a second year running, with new stars in Tsubasa Sano, Ryota Nakai and Yasutaka Yanagi coming to the fore.

Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga has already signed on for 2018 but he could have to assemble a new squad with playmaker Kento Nagasaki, recently linked with a move to Thai Honda Ladkrabang, one of several expected departures.

While they ultimately had to settle for a third-place finish, Home received plenty of plaudits for producing some scintillating football at times and deserve credit for reaching the ASEAN Zone final in the AFC Cup.

Geylang International also can be pleased with themselves as they finished inside the top four, their highest position since they were runners-up all the way back in 2003.

However, Brunei DPMM, champions as recently as 2015, suffered a real fall from grace as they finished third from bottom, while Garena Young Lions mustered a pitiful six points from 24 games.

TOP OF THE LOT

Obviously, Albirex. It’s impossible to argue with a record of 28 wins and four draws from 34 games in all competition, while scoring 92 goals and conceding just 21 in the process.

As expected, there was no shortage of star players to emerge from the White Swans over the course of 2017, and it is interesting to see where the likes of Nagasaki, Sano, Shuto Inaba and Naofumi Tanaka will venture next.

They may continue to receive unfair criticism from some quarters claiming their presence isn’t beneficial for the development of Singapore football.

Still, they are not only play the most attractive brand of football in the S.League, but continue to do plenty off the field with their community outreach programs.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Perhaps harsh given they were runners-up in the league, but a club of Tampines’ stature should be giving Albirex a legitimate fight for the title.

Likewise, while we’ve sung Home’s praises, when all is said and done, they would admit that finishing 12 points off the pace can be improved upon.

The obvious side that really needs to buck up is clearly DPMM, who managed just five wins in the league all year long despite boasting quality like Rafael Ramazotti, Azwan Ali and Billy Mehmet.

And, it also remains to be seen how long more the Young Lions project will be kept alive following another woeful campaign by the team supposedly boasting Singapore’s best and brightest young talent.

STARS OF THE SEASON

Irfan Fandi (Home United)

Still only 20 but already regarded as a key player for club and country, the future looks exceedingly bright for the eldest son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, especially now that he’s settled at centre-back.

The one-time striker could still add a bit more composure to his game but that will come with time.

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What he has now – a keen reading of the game, aerial dominance and a never-say-die attitude – suggests he will go on to be the Lions’ premier defender.

He has already been linked with Bangkok Glass and a move to the Thai League T1 would not be the worst thing at this stage of his development.

Shahril Ishak (Warriors FC)

The critics were quick to write Shahril Ishak off when he returned to the S.League following three years with Johor Darul Ta’zim II in the second tier of Malaysian football.

How did the man who was deemed too old, too slow and no longer worthy of a first-team spot respond? 11 goals as a withdrawn striker to be the joint-top local scorer alongside Home’s Faris Ramli, who also had an outstanding campaign.

The fact that Warriors were largely underwhelming throughout the season meant that Shahril’s resurgence was mostly overlooked, but it should not be underestimated how much respect and esteem he still commands in the fraternity.

He has shown there is still plenty of life left in him and who knows what the Singapore captain will produce in 2018.

Stipe Plazibat (Home United)

Like Irfan, Stipe Plazibat’s fantastic displays for the Protectors also look to have earned him a move to Thailand, and few would begrudge him his big move.

Together with Faris, who is extremely unlikely to miss out on this list, Plazibat made up one of the competition’s most-exciting attacks and finished the campaign with 37 goals in all competition.

His heroics in the AFC Cup, where he produced a four-goal display in a 5-4 win over Than Quang Ninh and also netted last-gasp strikes against Global Cebu, also proved him to be one for the big occasion.

Not all of the S.League’s foreign stars that make the move to Thailand succeed, but there is no reason why the Croat shouldn’t if he maintains his prolific ways.

NATIONAL TEAM REPORT CARD

When things go awry on the field, it’s easy to immediately point the finger at the coach and blame him for everything that’s going wrong.

But make no mistake about it. Even if you replaced V. Sundramoorthy with Pep Guardiola right now, chances are he wouldn’t fare much better than the current Singapore boss.

The bigger problem lies in the fact that, under the previous Football Association of Singapore (FAS) regime, football in the country as completely stagnated. Even went backwards, for that matter.

One only has to look at the thrashings the age-group sides were regularly on the receiving end of this past year to see that youth development in Singapore is way behind that of Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and even Indonesia.

What the new taskmasters at the FAS must now do is to admit that Singapore are lagging behind, assure Sundram that he will be given time to turn things around, and focus on nurturing the next generation for the next decade.

There is no point setting lofty targets for next year’s AFF Suzuki Cup if it only leads to short-term pleasure but long-term pain.

Photo credit: Football Association of Singapore

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