Tag Archives: Tajeli Salamat

Our Singapore Premier League Team Of The Week #1

My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam!

The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series!

Of course, your opinion may differ from us, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate. 

The Defence

A total of 19 goals was conceded in the four games that transpired over the weekend, and with no team mustering a clean sheet, every coach would surely be concentrating on their defensive organization for the upcoming fixtures. As such, we have gone with a three-man defence, and the 3 players that have stood out for us are:

Takahiro Koga

This was a tough one because almost all of the keepers did not really have the best of days in their opening fixtures. Takahiro Koga and Zainol Gulam were exceptions, but Koga gets the nod from us after his heroic displays against the Cheetahs.

Darren Teh

The ever-reliable Darren Teh shut down many of the Jaguars attacks and remained a pesky offensive outlet on the right flank. His presence stretched out the Tanjong Pagar side and allowed for the advancement of his side into the final third.

Tajeli Salamat

The defensive dynamo played a big part in the Sailors’ opening goals and, while the Sailors’ defensive organization was questionable, Tajeli put in a fantastic individual display, notching an assist with a timely interception and sprint.

Madhu Mohana

Tampines were faltering behind and needed someone to ignite their comeback – that man had to be Madhu. Besides scoring the first goal in what was to be a 3-3 comeback, Madhu also was decent at the back.

The Midfield

We really wanted to maximize the midfield because there were so many spectacular performances by players in the attacking half. Hence, we went with a five-man midfield. Song Ui-Yong is our honourable mention here for scoring 2021’s first SPL goal amidst a dynamic display, but his early substitution and missed chances means he just misses the cut in our star-studded midfield.

Joel Chew

The former Tampines man may have not played the entire match, but he certainly impressed during his time on the pitch. Big things seemingly await Joel, and it’s a treat to witness his progress with the Young Lions this season.

Chiku Kosuke

The Japanese midfielder notched an assist and demonstrated his creative prowess from corner kicks. It’ll be interesting to see how the Albirex number eight progresses through the course of the season. If his performance against Hougang is anything to go by, he poses a real threat from the middle of the park.

Yasir Hanapi

Okay, we know that Yasir Hanapi played as a forward against the Sailors, but cut us some slack. We had to fit the Tampines skipper in somehow, and so we slotted him in an unconventional left wing spot. Madhu may have ignited the comeback, but Yasir sealed the deal. 

Gabriel Quak

The SPL 2020 Player of the Year demonstrated why, once again, he is arguably the best player to be playing in Singapore right now. 2 goals against the Stags is by no means an easy feat, and Gabriel was a constant presence on the pitch. His only mistake – not scoring more when he could have easily done so.

Šime Žužul

The unselfish Balestier target man channelled his inner Harry Kane as he set up Shuhei Hoshino on two instances, with one being the wonder strike. Some have said that Hoshino and Žužul cannot play together, but their outing against Young Lions really proved otherwise. Other teams beware.

The Forward Line

Ah, we really had our pick for this one – we couldn’t include Stipe, Moreseche and Ilhan Fandi. But we went for a dual samurai combination up top. Jumbo and Tsuboi definitely looked menacing upfront. It will be interesting to see how they fare for the rest of the season after truly making a statement on the opening day of the campaign.

Shuhei Hoshino

‘Jumbo’ was definitely on form this Gameweek, with an absolute peach of a volley to score Balestier’s third in what was arguably the Goal of the Gameweek. His first goal was also a lovely outside-of-the-box curling effort that gave the keeper no chance.

Kiyoshiro Tsuboi

It seems that Albirex manages to unearth a new offensive gem every year, and this year’s marquee Japanese forward proved no exception. His brace consisted of a powerful strike (which, to be fair, should have been handled by veteran Ridhuan Barudin), and an acrobatic diving header that thumped into the back of the net.

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers, Albirex Niigata, Young Lions

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Hearing From The Interviewees – Thoughts On the New Season

The 2021 Singapore Premier League Season is going to kick off in less than 24 hours, and while it’s a real shame that fans are unable to attend the matches in person, there is a lot of hype for this campaign. Several clubs have made high profile signings, and it’ll be interesting to see how these stalwarts fare this season in Singapore. Besides that, the return of the Singapore Cup and continental football means that there is a lot to look out for this season.

Yet, I wanted to ask some players how they felt regarding the new season and so I reached out to some players I interviewed. Here is what they had to say:

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Tajeli Salamat

Tajeli had a fantastic season with Lion City Sailors last season and even featured in the 2020 SPL Team of the Year. While hoping to continue his fine form, the Sailors’ defensive dynamo does admit that he is feeling a little nervous because “with the new season, there comes new goals.” That being said, Taj is excited and hungry for the league to kick off.

“After the delay of the league start date, I have been really looking forward to the start, and now that it’s already March, I can’t wait to play.”

“Regarding changes from last season, I think we have improved together as a team both physically and mentally. The bonds between us are also getting stronger each day. It’s important that we remain as one unit. As the saying goes, together we stand, divided we fall.”

“I really put in the hard work last season, and featuring in the team of the year really meant a lot to me. This year is going to be no different. I will continue to work hard and I hope to achieve more for the team and individually. Oh, and of course, going far in the AFC! End of the day, whatever I am doing, I am working hard for my family – my wife, my newborn son and my parents – cause I am a family guy now. I am doing this for them.”

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Delwinder Singh

Like the rest of Tanjong Pagar, Delwinder had a season to forget in the 2020 campaign, where the Jagauars finished in last place. That being said, the club has done some serious business in the window and they are looking to make a statement this year.

“Definitely feeling great and excited about the start of a brand new league! We didn’t do well or rather of what we thought we could be able to do. Hence, I’d say it’s redemption time and to get things straight from the start starting with this Sunday’s game. We as a team believe in our philosophy and hence, it’s about continuing and believing in it with our football and showcasing it.”

“We’ve brought in experienced heads who can help in terms of pushing us to our limits and even beyond! Apart from that, it is some minor changes in terms of our football philosophy and to be honest, we’re raring to get this going and to put all our hard work at test. On a personal note, apart from club training, I’ve started working with Rory from Edge of the Box Mentoring, and the sessions has been excellent in terms of getting me physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead, so I hope I can use it efficiently to help me deal with the various challenges that I’ll face.”

“As a team, I’d say at least qualifying for the AFC would be a good stepping stone. This will only lead to greater things in the future. On a more personal note, firstly would be to do my upmost best to help the team by restricting the opponents. By doing well, hopefully it opens the door back into the national team again as there’s AFF Suzuki Cup to look forward to.”

Photo Credits: Singapore Premier League

Anders Aplin

COVID-19 prematurely ended Hougang’s maiden AFC Cup voyage, and after tasting it once, they are probably hungry for it again. Hougang coach Clement Teo may have stated that Hougang are “not looking at the title as of now”, but with their recent transfers, the Cheetahs are a serious threat to any opponent. At the heart of their defence is Anders Aplin, the self-declared Offensive CB.

Anders briefly mentioned how he’s “really looking forward to the start of the season. It’s been a long and tough pre-season so we’re definitely eager to get going.”

“I’ll take each game at a time. Collectively, I suppose AFC would be something we want to qualify for.”

Photo Credits: Tampines Rovers FC

Gavin Lee

Despite narrowly missing out on the title, Gavin can surely be proud of what the Stags accomplished last season. This season offers a new opportunity – the AFC Champions League.

“The team and I are very excited for tomorrow’s first game. We have prepared well and the boys have applied themselves well throughout the pre-season. I think besides some new faces in the team, not a lot has changed. We are still the same motivated group and we want to achieve what we missed out on last year. Plus we continue to believe in our playing principles as it forms a big part of our processes, as well as continue to develop strong brains required for a successful season.”

“The goals for a club like Tampines remains constant every year. It is our duty to do our very best to achieve them. We like our big games but every game in the league poses different challenges. We enjoy playing against the various opposing strategies and we are ready for this new season!”

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Lion City Sailors have been making waves in the local footballing scene since tech firm Sea’s takeover of Home United. Besides becoming a fully privatized club, the Sailors have recently launched their football academy, and they made the news recently by becoming the first academy in Singapore to receive AFC’s one-star rating. Geylang International were looking to resume where they last left off in the campaign. The Eagles lost their opening tie to Albirex but subsequently scored impressive victories against Young Lions and Hougang United. 

The Sailors started brightly against the Eagles, with Stipe Plazibat opening the floodgates with a debut goal in the 8th minute. The assist came from none other than Tajeli Salamat, a player I interviewed a few months ago. Shadan Sulaiman’s corner kick was met by Tajeli, whose drooping header found Stipe in the 6-yard box, whose strike easily found the back of the net. 

In the 17th minute, an unmarked Nur Luqman wasted a golden opportunity to equalize when his lobbed effort beat Sailors keeper Hassan Sunny also beat the post. Minutes later, Stipe came close to adding to his tally, but Zainol Gulam pulled a magnificent save. Similarly, Tajeli once again made his presence known in the match by keeping the visitors out with a goal-line clearance in the 35th minute after a spectacular move by the Eagles.

Drama unfolded just before the break, as Geylang goalkeeper Zainol Gulam committed a nasty challenge on Arshad Shamim in the penalty box, which resulted in a red card for the custodian. Substitute keeper Hairul Syirhan went the right way and almost kept out Song Ui-yong’s penalty, but the South Korean’s strike was too much for Syirhan to handle. Stipe made it three in the 84th minute with another simple tap in from Gabriel Quak’s low-driven pass. 4 minutes later, Singapore icon Sharil Ishak made it 4-0. 

Sensational Stipe: The missing piece for the Sailors?

All eyes would have indeed been on Stipe Plazibat for this fixture. The Croatian transferred from Hougang United to the Sailors during the league’s suspension. He was brought in to replace Australian forward Andy Pengelly, who returned home to Australia following the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Pengelly came in with a lot of promise. He scored an impressive 52 goals in 34 games for the semi-professional outfit, Brisbane Queensland National Premier League (NPL). While it would have been interesting to see how Pengelly would have fared in Singapore, I don’t know if he was what the Sailors needed. He could have been a “Hidden Gem” that potentially set the league on fire. I mean, he did score in his first game for the Sailors. However, he could have struggled later on as well. We would never know. 

Stipe, on the other hand, is a proven striker in Singapore. Scratch that, he is arguably the best foreign player in our shores right now. With him leading their frontline, the Sailors have that statement signing that seemingly eluded them at the start of the season. His double against the Eagles brings his tally to 11 goals in 7 appearances for this season. The forward scored 9 in 6 for Hougang before the league’s suspension. 

At the start of the season, the Sailors looked like a disjointed team that had no bite. Pengelly scored the first goal against Tanjong Pagar, but the subsequent 4-0 thrashing by Tampines showed that the Sailors had a long way to go. The long break of 211 days certainly helped to promote team cohesion, and that probably helped build chemistry. That being said, I Stipe Plazibat’s acquisition helps to lessen the load on Song Ui-Yong and Sharil Ishak, the two primary sources for goals for Home United for the past couple of years. 

This is the Sailors’ first win of the season, and it sees them move up to 6th place. However, with two games in hand, they could see themselves top of the table if they win both fixtures. The Sailors play against Albirex Niigata next, and a win against the three-time league champions would really emphasize their calibre. It would be a real test against the White Swans though, who cruised past Young Lions in a 4-0 win this past weekend. Geylang, on the other hand, are now in 5th place after the loss and host Balestier Khalsa this Saturday. Based on Balestier’s match against Tanjong Pagar, Geylang have an excellent chance to come away with a victory.

Featured Image: Singapore Premier League

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The Resilient Utility Player, A Rarity In The Modern Game: An Interview with Tajeli Salamat

I had the opportunity to talk to Tajeli the other day, and it felt good talking with the current Lion City Sailors FC centre-back. I knew Tajeli from his time at Warriors FC, my favourite Singaporean team that was unfortunately forced to sit out of the 2020 season due to financial issues. If Tajeli is an unfamiliar name to you now, just wait for him to feature for the national team. He is a tenacious footballer who will do anything to improve his game and become the best footballer he can be. This is the story of Tajeli who took charge of his career, engineered his own moves to keep the footballing dream alive, and worked hard to overcome the challenges he was faced with.

Beginnings: From Street Soccer to Professional Football

Coming from a family where no one really plays sports, it may seem like a surprise that Tajeli pursued a professional career in football. But those close to the player would know that there were signs early on that he would become a footballer. Growing up, he just loved playing the sport, and no matter whether be it a street soccer game with friends or a match with the Zhenghua Primary School Football team, he always played his heart out. He usually came home late, which led to his mother scolding him frequently.

“During my childhood days, I always get scoldings from my mother. I’ll be there [at the street soccer court] 24/7 and once I get back, she’d scold me saying ‘you don’t know how to get back is it? You just want to play soccer until when?’ So like that was the question thrown at me back then.”

While his mother may have scolded him for spending too much time on football, it was these formative days playing street soccer that shaped his footballing career. Even though he didn’t come from a footballing family, his father wasn’t going to stand in the way of Tajeli’s footballing ambitions. His father enrolled him Jurong F.C.’s youth set-up, and the player progressed through the U-League squads. During his time with the Jurong F.C. youth team, he was in the same side as Tampines custodian Syazwan Buhairi and former Lions XI player Pravin Guanasagaran. Yet, it was not until the trials for the Singapore Sports School when Tajeli played in defence. Up to that point he was deployed as a forward in both Jurong F.C. and his primary school football team.

“When I was in Primary School, I wasn’t a centre-back. I was either a striker or a winger. During the trials for [admittance into] the Sports School, we were categorized into our positions. When they were [assembling] teams to face off each other, it was a case of 11 V 10 and they needed one additional player, but that player had to play as a defender. So they asked me and I said, why not give it a try? From there, they saw that I could play in another position.

While nowadays he operates as a centre-back at Lions City Sailors F.C, it would be more apt to label him as a utility-player. Besides playing in the heart of defence, Tajeli has also played as a centre-midfielder and operated down both flanks as a fullback and a wide-midfielder. In many ways, Tajeli is like what John O’Shea was to Manchester United during the 2000s – a reliable player who can operate in multiple positions, a true rarity in the modern game.

After his time at Sports School, Tajeli didn’t want to pursue his further studies and was determined to enlist in National Service early so that he can continue his football development while he was a teenager. He was given the chance to enter the “Through train” programme, where Sports School students have a direct transition to Polytechnic education, but he declined it. Just as he was about to serve the nation, he received a call-up to play for a regional youth tournament in 2011.

“I decided to go to ITE instead so I would have an opportunity to feature in this tournament. However, I think that was the mistake because after that, they changed the age group from those born 1994 and before to 1995 and before. That was my only regret and I should have done my NS first because I think at that moment, I was blooming.

“I was in the NFA U-18 team playing in the Prime League but they promoted me to the Young Lions First team, so I represented Young Lions when I was 17, while still in ITE.”

After a season with Young Lions, Tajeli then signed for Balestier Khalsa for the 2013 season, and the Tigers went on to win the League Cup that season. He was playing brilliantly for the Tigers, who went on to win the RHB Singapore Cup in the 2013 season. However, Tajeli wasn’t able to feature in the later stages of the competition because National Service (NS) came calling that August, and it signalled an end to his footballing development. He did continue to play Sunday League football, but he never continued his development with a Prime League or S.League team.

Instead, he spent most of his time staying in camp. But it wasn’t all to bad for Tajeli. The player relished his NS experience and he even clinched the Best Recruit award for his company. Since he was part of a mono-intake with 2SIR, only the Best Recruits could be selected for the SISPEC course to become a 3rd Sergeant. With his footballing career seemingly over, he seriously considered signing on with the Army but decided to wait until after his NS to decide whether he was going to or not.

Photo credits: Tajeli Salamat (@3llyc4nc3l0)

Back into Football After NS & Almost Calling it Quits…

After he completed his NS in June in 2016, he was offered a chance to represent Singapore once again in another youth tournament, and he joined up with Young Lions yet again. He joined the club mid-way through the season, and at the end of the season he managed to seal a move back to Balestier Khalsa. What’s interesting is that Tajeli engineered this move all on his own.

“Back then it was coach Marko [Kraljević who was managing the club]. I think I also knew him during our time at Jurong FC and I probably refreshed his memory when I asked if he remembers. He told me that he remembers me. I just made the first step to ask if they’d be keen to have me in the team. What also helped was that I played for Balestier in 2013.”

However, his time at Balestier was going to be a short one. Following the end of the However, his time at Balestier was going to be a short one. Following the end of the 2017 season, Tajeli was not immediately offered a contract extension by Balestier Khalsa FC, with management telling him that they would only provide him a contract pending Head Coach Marko Kraljević’s return to Singapore for the following season. That November, Tajeli worked part-time handling deliveries for RedMart while he was waiting for his contract to be renewed, something he was almost certain would happen. Then January came and SPL clubs were filling in their squads for next season. He remained hopeful of a contract from Balestier. Yet, that contract never came, and while the season went underway, Tajeli was left without a club. He tried approaching Tampines Rovers and Geylang International but since they could only offer him part-time contracts, he rejected them. It was that moment when Tajeli felt like it was time to call an end to his professional career.

Following the end of the season, for the next five months, he worked part-time with RedMart. While the job came with certain perks such as the provision of a van, which allowed him to travel around, his pay paled in comparison to what he was earning as a football player. He started applying for full-time positions, but he was unsuccessful. He even applied to sign on with the Army and the SCDF. However, during that difficult period, his then-girlfriend (now wife) was there to help him financially and it is something that he will always be grateful to her for.

“My wife supported me financially and emotionally. I don’t want to use her money, you know? So I decided to work at RedMart. She was there for me and she was just a student at ITE Ang Mo Kio working part-time. I am truly thankful to her for standing by my side.”

During this period, Tajeli, who still loved football passionately, wasn’t about to give up on his dreams totally. He went for trials with NFL teams such as Yishun Sentek Mariners for trials before being selected to play for Tiong Bahru FC. However, something didn’t sit well with the utility player. The NFL season hadn’t commenced yet, but deep down, he felt that he belonged in the SPL.

…Before a Warriors Lifeline

Tajeli decided to have one last crack at playing SPL football and ringed up Paul Poh, who was the General Manager of Warriors FC at that point in time. In 2016, Paul personally called Tajeli and offered him a contract and the player asked if there was any opportunity to play with his club.

“I asked him if he could offer me the same contract that he offered me last time. He told me to come down for a trial the next day so that the coaches can assess me and see whether I can make it to the team.”

Luck seemed to have been on the player’s side, because he put in a noteworthy performance during his trial that caught the eye of Mirko Grabovac, the then-Warriors Head Coach. Not long after, Tajeli went for a medical check-up and he went into the squad.

Tajeli enjoyed his time with Warriors partly because of his close friendship with Sahil Suhaimi. Besides being his roommate whenever the club headed to Brunei to face DPMM FC, Tajeli enjoyed playing with the Warriors no. 7 because they shared chemistry both on and off the pitch. Deployed mostly as a Right Back, Tajeli had a telepathic connection with the right-winger and they produced some brilliant linkup play. Tajeli also looks back with fondness at his playing time with Warriors and is thankful that the club provided him with a lifeline to return to the game loves.

Leaving Warriors and Starting a New Chapter with Lion City Sailors F.C

While Warriors provided a lifeline to Tajeli’s career, it wasn’t a smooth sailing journey towards the end due to the club’s financial issues.

“In Singapore, end of the day, it’s all about the money. Players need to be paid but Army also taught me well – to go with the flow. It wasn’t a case where the issue surfaced before the start or after the end of the season, when you had the time to make a decision on your career. It was during the season, so what else can you do?

“At the back of my mind, I know that money is important but I also want to be better [as a player]. I knew I can’t just focus on the now but also think of my future. I might be doing well and not paid now but I might be getting better pay in the future.”

Tajeli was with the club until they shut down, but when a better opportunity came elsewhere, he had to make the move. In fact, two clubs, Geylang International and Lions City Sailors FC, wanted to secure his services. However, Tajeli understandably went with the latter because the Sailors offered him a better contract. He needed to settle certain costs and payments that were incurred as a result of the unpaid wages fiasco at Warriors FC. As such, his time at Warriors also influenced him choosing his next destination.

While the club is still new and the team still hasn’t really had much time together given the Covid-19 Pandemic, Tajeli has been impressed by how the Sailors are making their club really professional. He cites a small example to show the club’s professionalism.

“When we go for games, we report to Bishan Stadium [the Lion City Sailors Home ground] and we’ll have our teamtalk and everything. Then we will board the bus together as a unit and move on to the stadium. So, it’s new to me. For the past clubs I’ve been, it’s always been report to the away stadium directly.”

Lion City Sailors have definitely added something fresh in a stale Singaporean landscape. The whole rebranding of Home United has been pretty impressive, and their recent launch of their youth academy has shown that they are determined to improve the quality of Singapore football. Most importantly, they have a highly rated head coach in Aurelio Vidmar. While there hasn’t been much training sessions, the Australian icon certainly embodies the professionalism of the club – an assessment that Tajeli wholeheartedly agrees with.

“I think he is a good coach, he emphasizes more on the basics. Even though we may be competent with our basics, he [Vidmar] wants us to polish it. Even small passes like short passes, it has to be firm, it has to be on the ground so that it is easy for the receiver to think ahead and turn, you know?”

The sailors are one club I will look at closely the next few seasons and hopefully, more clubs can follow in their suit.

National Team Ambitions and Future Aspirations

Tajeli also hopes to play abroad one day. One of his regrets was turning down an opportunity to play for an Australian National Premier League team. The NFA Under-18s headed over to Australia for a series of exhibition matches, where scouts from NPL and A-League clubs were present. Out of the 24 players from Singapore, Tajeli was the only one approached with an offer. While a move abroad to Australia sounded promising, he had to turn down the offer due to National Service and the fact that they required him to give a somewhat immediate answer.

Representing Singapore for the 2019 SEA Game., Photo credits: Tajeli Salamat (@3llyc4nc3l0)

“They wanted me to give an answer immediately. Like after I landed back in Singapore, I needed to speak to my parents and all, and then if I accepted their offer, I needed to fly back in 3 days. I remember them telling me that my visa would be done and my accommodation all taken care of.”

However, Tajeli understands that he would stand a better chance to earn a move abroad if he got called up to the national team – something he isn’t far off from. Tajeli got his first call-up to the national team in 2019 but is yet to earn a senior cap. He was called up this March for National Team training and could possibly feature for the Lions this year if Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and football was to continue.

For those that have been watching football, some of you may recognize Tajeli as one of six players publicly named by the FAS who broke curfew rules during the 2019 SEA Games following a loss to Thailand in the group stage. Personally, I think the way that the actions of the FAS were deplorable, to say the least. That however, will be for an article another day. It was the first time that Tajeli represented Singapore as a professional player and he has bounced back from the SEA Games fiasco as a stronger player, raring to earn his senior cap.

Tajeli is a fine footballer but what makes him stand out is his resilience and work ethic when he’s on the field. He has faced many challenges in his career but is unfazed by them. Instead, he works hard to overcome these challenges and become a better footballer. I firmly believe that featuring for the national team will be the gateway for Tajeli’s career to really take off. Who knows, perhaps a move to Australia might come calling again.