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The Swan Army: Japan Is The Aim

Since 2014, Albirex Niigata (S) have embarked on efforts to nurture young Singaporeans with the establishment of Yuhua Albirex Football Academy. Now, some eight years after, the White Swans have Singaporean players in their youth and Senior teams.

So, what is the long-term goal for Albirex?

Before 2018, the purpose of Albirex was to provide a platform for young Japanese footballers to step out of their comfort zone and venture overseas. They were to come to Singapore, play in the SPL and then move on to other leagues, be it Europe or Asia. But is the goal the same for our Singaporean boys?

Well, yes and no.

While not sending all their players directly to Japan, Albirex Niigata (S) does give its players the Japanese experience for our Lions. The football club is mostly run by Japanese staff with a select few Singaporeans amongst them. This blend is also translated on the field with a mash of Singaporean and Japanese footballers in the squad. This unique arrangement allows our young cubs, especially those still studying or awaiting National Service to train and play outside the Singaporean styled footballing system without leaving the country.

Image Credits Singapore Premier League

So is the aim the same to send our Singaporean boys to other leagues abroad?

Well, it certainly is. Albirex Niigata Singapore aims to one day send a Singaporean to Albirex Niigata Japan or even to another Japanese League team. The aim is to send a Lion to the land of the rising sun and have him play regularly there, similar to that of Thailand Captain Chanathip Songkrasin who has made his home there playing for more than half a decade.

With the Japanese League being somewhat of the EPL or La Liga of Asia, we hope to see one of our own makes it big there. Albirex did have a few Singaporean boys sent over to Japan to have training stints, but of course, such things happened before the outbreak of the pandemic. Maybe when the pandemic has cleared down, we could resume seeing our Lions getting training stints again.

Of course, that’s the ideal scenario in the future, so it’s important to ask what is the current progress so far?

At the moment Albirex is truly a production centre for many teams. At the end of 2019, 4 Swans were swooped by SPL teams. That number almost doubled after the 2020 season, when we won the SPL with 7 Swans being acquired by SPL clubs. At the end of the 2021 campaign, a total of 9 Swans signed with SPL teams, despite the team finishing second.

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League

Across the league, only Lion City Sailors do not boast a Japanese player produced by Albirex. Not only do SPL teams get Albirex produced players directly from the club, but they do also sign former Swans who have left the SPL for greener pastures – examples include current SPL duo Rio Sakuma and Jumbo, who turn out for Geylang and Balestier in 2022, respectively. With regards to Singaporeans who have turned out for the White Swans before, all teams have at least one player that has gone through Albirex before. This really is a testament to the development and training they receive at Albirex.

Despite not being signed by the Japanese club yet, Albirex provides the opportunity to jump-start their career and maybe seek greener pasture elsewhere. The Swans are not one to prevent players from leaving. When one player leaves, another will get the opportunity to fight for his predecessor’s spot.

Right now, the 2022 Season is soon upon us. We have a new squad with some old faces but a host of new additions. Fikri Junaidi, Hilman Norhisam and Nicky Melvin Singh are all looking sharp. Zamani Zamri and Daniel Goh could be on the way back after serving their National Service. We could even see more Singaporean signings at the club. With Kazu back at the helm and with the success he had with Adam Swandi, the Swan Army hopes that the goal of Singaporeans playing in Japan is within reach.

Who knows, maybe one of the current youngsters ends up becoming a generational talent?

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