2021 PAINS AND PEEKING OVER THE FENCE
As a Tampines Rovers fan and a member of The Yellow Knights (TYK), it pains me deeply to see my team struggle as a whole to complete the 2nd half of last season. In fact, the final two games of the season perfectly encapsulate the 2021 season for me. The Stags fought tooth and nail at their final away game against a flying Albirex Niigata Singapore to earn an impressive 0-0 draw. However, following that valiant display, the Stags bottled their next and final home game, an Eastern derby no less, against eternal rivals Geylang International who equalised in stoppage time with a goal from the spot, ending the game 1-1.
If that does not sum up the Stags’ disappointing 2021 season, I do not know what will.
Also, the less said about the clubs’ historic first Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign, the better.
Looking beyond a disappointing 2021, the upcoming 5th season of the Singapore Premier League looks to be another tricky season for the Stags. With foreign players like former New York Red Bulls, Vincent Bezecourt and Pedro Bortoluzo from Liga Portugal 2 signing for the likes of Geylang International and Hougang United respectively. Every single team in the league has seemingly upped their game in some way or another.
Not forgetting big spenders and defending league champion, Franchise FC themselves, the Lion City Sailors essentially morphing into the LionsXII 2.0, as they look to sign the entire Singaporean national team squad. Jokes aside, their recent acquisition of Korean forward and two-times ACL winner, Kim Shin-Wook is sure to strike fear into any opposition. I am definitely not jealous in the slightest.
ENOUGH ABOUT THE PAST AND THE OPPOSITION, WHAT ABOUT THE STAGS?
The Stags are again fielding a squad filled with plenty of exciting young blood. With six U-23 players and five U-21 players in the first-team squad, it is certainly one of the youngest squads in Singaporean football. As the recent never before seen, 5-years contract extension of the young and superb Joel Chew and the equally brilliant Shah Shahiran has shown, the Stags are planning for the long-term, and boy am I all for it!
Some might criticize and decry our immediate title ambitions, but to me personally, it signals our serious commitment and intent to build a more sustainable team capable of challenging for the title in the near future.
If the strong performances of Marc Ryan Tan and Iman Hakim from last season have shown anything is that some of these seeds that were planted earlier might have already started to bear some fruit.
Tampines Rovers look set to banish the ghosts of disappointment with its core being essentially the same squad (thank goodness, just look at Balestier and neighbours, Geylang for the total opposite of this), however, with the addition of some bright new signings. But first, some of the current crop of players to look out for in 2022…
THE CURRENT CROP
El Capitan, Yasir Hanapi will continue to lead us in his 6th consecutive season for the Stags. At 32-year-old, the captain is still solid and dependable as always. He is also an occasional goal threat. What more can you want from any club captain.
Another dependable player that I am super happy is still with us is our very own Superman, Syazwan Buhari. The man is a brilliant goalkeeper, and it is almost criminal that he only got his first proper nod for the national team at the recently concluded 2020 AFF Cup. Syazwan will win the Golden Glove this season, you heard it here first folks.
The announcement that Kyoga Nakamura (arguably the league’s most likeable man and Albirex’s most important export to Singapore, if you exclude the awesome way the club is run) has signed a bumper 5-years contract with Tampines was quickly met with universal praise from everybody in the local football scene. With his outstanding technical ability with the ball and infectious positive attitude (that must surely be a hit in the locker room), it is no wonder Tampines was keen to hold on to the Japanese for the long term. Here is hoping that the midfield maestro will get his Singapore permanent residency soon as well.
I am expecting players like Kyoga and his equally hardworking midfield partner, Zehrudin Mehmedović (the league’s most handsome Bridegroom) to continue their fine form with us. Expect the Japanese and the Serbian to run the middle of the park and provide a good number of assists and even goals for the Stags with their famous trickery and pace.
I also expect gentle giant, Boris Kopitović to show off more of his Big Bad Boris side and bang in more goals for the Stags. His large stature and killer instinct will terrorize any opposition in the league. However, that is only if the Montenegrin can rediscover and maintain that sizzling form, he had with us at the 1st half of last season. Thankfully he is not alone, as long as super-sub and fan favourite, Taufik Suparno continues to be well, super for the club, then the Stags might not have to worry too much about its attacking front.
What might potentially be a cause of concern for Tampines is its leaky back, but thankfully the Stags have some brand-new reinforcements.
THE NEW (and old) BLOOD
New additions to the team include young defenders like 22-year-old Danish Irfan who looks to be a solid signing for Tampines. He had a pretty good season playing for the Young Lions and was even captain at various points last season showing both a good defensive sense and maturity. He shows real potential, and it is no wonder the Stags signed him up.
The signing of 23-year-old, Shuya Yamashita who impressed at Albirex last season will add much-needed strength to our defensive woes. He is an inspired signing for the Stags, and I am confident he will bring his talent and strong defensive work rate to us. (Also, Kyoga-San if you are reading this, can we please get a guest appearance from Yamashita in your signature ‘day in the life’ vlogs on YouTube, we The Yellow Knights are huge fans of your series.)
Ong Yu En looks to be another smart signing for the Stags. The 18-year-old who counts Eden Hazard and Paul Scholes as his footballing heroes provided five assists for the Swans last season which is incredible for someone his age. With the guidance of our more senior Stags in the midfield, he will surely become someone to watch this season.
17-year-old Sunny Tia will join the Stags’ goalkeeper union and be in safe hands under the excellent guidance of our handsome goalkeeper coach William Phang. Let’s hope he grows to be the club’s safest hands in a few years’ time.
While veterans of the league and of the club, 29-years-old, Christopher Van Huizen, and 34-years-old Firdaus Kasman will provide the generally young team with a much-needed wealth of experience. Van Huizen, in particular, is always a threat in the wing and will be a good replacement for the departing Armin Bošnjak who although always giving his 100% never truly settled within the squad.
These new additions will add to our squad depth as the Stags will need to count on everybody new and old to do their part for this upcoming season which look set to be the most action-packed football calendar Tampines has had for a long time.
A LONGER SEASON
With the announcement that this upcoming season will shift from a triple round-robin format to a quadrable one, you can expect squad depth to play an even more crucial role for Tampines. Add to that the Stag’s involvement in the AFC Cup and the much-missed Singapore Cup (which is back after a 2-year hiatus) and the resulting calendar is an incredibly packed one.
Thankfully, to alleviate some of the pressure of a more congested calendar for the players, the league will now allow clubs to register up to 20 players per game. With each club now having the option to make five substitutions and to have nine players on the bench from the original three and seven respectively.
More matches mean more competitive minutes for everyone in the squad. This is a good thing, especially for those at the cusps of potentially appearing for the Singapore national team. More matches also mean more football for us to enjoy (or suffer from… or both) for all of us.
I expect to see the Stags experimenting just a bit more with the line-ups as they adjust themselves to the new substitution rules and to a more packed fixture. Additionally, the new U-23 ruling will come into effect this season as well. Team no longer need to field three U-23 players in their starting line-up; thus, you can expect most teams to fill their strongest line-ups almost immediately. This is welcome news to many local football fans.
With the first league game for the Stags in just a few days’ time, I wonder if they can do it
on a cold rainy night at Toa Payoh, against Balestier, in the Year of the Tiger no less? I certainly hope so. The last time the two teams met at Toa Payoh the match ended with an embarrassing 5-2 defeat for the Stags. Revenge will be on the minds of our lads for sure (well, certainly for us traveling fans who will be bringing the noise and the yellow and black to the Swamp).
FOR THE YELLOW AND BLACK
I cannot speak for all Tampines fans, but I can, however, speak for my brethren at TYK. You can expect to see the Knights wherever the Stags might go, as we will follow our team through the best of highs and to the worse of lows. We have utmost faith and confidence in coach Gavin Lee and his backroom staff to deliver a more positive season this year.
As an ever-hopeful Tampines fan, all I simply wish for in 2022 is to see a more consistent and confident Tampines Rovers Football Club. Nothing else.
Well, okay perhaps silverware will be nice.
COME ON YOU ROVERS!
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