Asian Football

A First In Singapore: The Albirex (S) GK Wars Cup

If there’s one person who doesn’t stop innovating in the Singapore football scene it’s Habil Hakim. The Albirex Niigata (S)  Academy Director has helped solidify the Japanese outfit’s presence in our city-state’s youth football and his latest initiative helps strengthen that further. 

Goalkeepers are the arguably biggest unsung heroes in world football. Literally the last line of defence for teams, they often don’t get the credit they deserve.

One only has to look at the Ballon d’Or to realize that there haven’t been any goalkeepers this century. Sure, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated the award for the bulk of the millennium. However, even in the 20th century, only former Soviet custodian Lev Yashin received this accolade. Consequently, the Yashin Trophy was inaugurated in 2019 to honour the best goalkeepers with Thibaut Courtois being the latest recipient of the accolade.

Similarly, in Singapore, there is minimal focus on goalkeeper development. Yes, we have routinely produced some fantastic keepers over the years and they have shined in the regional and international arenas. However, there hasn’t been any football-related competition that was tailored specifically for goalkeepers – something that Habil wanted to change with the introduction of the Albirex (S) GK Wars Cup.

“The GK Wars Cup is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while in Singapore,” shares Habil. “The goalkeeper is now an integral part of the outfield play and gone are the days where goalkeepers are only expected to make heroic saves. I dare say that formations now are no longer ‘4-5-1’ or ‘4-4-2’ but rather ‘1-4-5-1’ and ‘1-4-4-2’. This is why many managers need their keepers to be good on their feet too because they kickstart an attack.”

Powered by the Albirex Singapore Football Academy, the tournament rules saw keepers facing each other in a 1 vs 1 (keeper vs keeper) format in six-minute games that are split into 2 halves, with a 30-second half-time break accorded. The games may have seemed short but many agreed that the duration made them more intense and therefore more tiring. Goalkeepers could only score from their own half and there was a wipeout rule in place where a clean catch wiped out your opponent’s shot. Keepers competed with one another in a round-robin format initially before the top few progressed to the knockout stages. Players could enter three categories – a U16 level, an Adult level and a Veterans Level – offering custodians of all ages the chance to demonstrate their goalkeeping prowess. 

A total of 40 custodians attended the event and it served to be a great gathering of goalkeepers. In the end, Darwisy, Haikal and Bukhari won the U16, Adult and Veterans categories respectively. 

It’s safe to say that those who attended are longing for more. 

“It was good to see such a diverse group of people attend this event,” reveals Jose Kasijo. “It put on some display some amazing talent and I can’t wait for the next one!”

“The tournament provides an excellent means to increase the goalkeeper community in Singapore and everyone can learn from each other through the event,” shares Kelvin, another participant. 

Likewise, Eugene, another participant, echoed those sentiments.

“The organization was really good and I will certainly be joining the next edition of the tournament,” he adds. I don’t think I can play in the SPL but these tournaments allow me to test my skills and keep me on my toes for social games. I also really hope I can train with the Albirex goalkeeper coaches!”

Thankfully, Albirex and, more importantly, Habil aim to contribute more for local shot-stoppers and use this tournament to scout aspiring goalkeepers or unattached goalkeepers who are looking for clubs and academies to join. 

“We’re planning to run this event 3 more times in 2023,” explains Habil. “We had a good turnout this time and hopefully we get more keepers down in the subsequent tournaments.”

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