Hougang bag two big transfer signings
S.League wooden spoonists Hougang United have pulled off arguably the most sensational transfer coup this pre-season with the double swoop of Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure and former Geylang International skipper Jozef Kaplan.
Understandably, Cheetahs coach K Balagumaran, who took over the reins from Salim Moin with three matches left of the last season, is delighted with his foreign signings as he eyes an unprecedented top-half finish.
"I worked with Kaplan when he played for Negeri Sembilan, where I was assistant coach in 2014," said the 51-year-old, who was V Sundramoorthy's assistant when the LionsXII won the Malaysian Super League in 2013.
"He is not just a proven goalscorer, but also a good role model for young players with his professionalism.
"The same goes for Kogure, who is the best playmaker from last season. He is a player who is excellent from set-pieces and can create chances out of nothing.
"It's a coup for us to bring in the Player of the Year, whom other bigger clubs like Home United were also keen to sign.
"I spoke to him personally about our plans and style of play, and a lot of the credit has to go to our management who negotiated with him.
"We want to play a high-intensity, high-tempo game and I'm happy with our signings. I'm confident with the players I've got.
"With hard work, we can get the results to finish in the top half in what looks like an open league."
While last season's ambitious target of a top-three finish - Hougang have never ended a season in the top half - was supposed to be backed up by the signing of 35-year-old former Real Madrid youth player Chupe, this year's acquisitions are mostly in their prime.
Kogure is 26 and has six seasons of J.League experience - five years in J1 with Albirex Niigata and one year in J2 with Mito Hollyhock - under his belt, while 29-year-old Slovak Kaplan is a proven scorer who has poached 45 goals in 90 S.League matches across four seasons.
The dynamic duo are chomping at the bit to fire their new club to greater heights too.
Optimistic about the prospect of helping Hougang land a first major trophy this season, Kogure said: "After my contract ended with Albirex Niigata Singapore, I was anxious to be transferred to a local team.
"I decided to sign with Hougang United because they wanted me to be their player and I really appreciated their passionate offer.
"One by one, I will try my best to help the team win matches and I look forward to the team effort which can help us to win a big title.
"Jozef is a great player, very professional and he inspires me with confidence. I believe we will lead the team to victory."
Kaplan added: "I believe we can play exciting football to achieve a good league position and, hopefully, a good cup run.
"Kogure is for me a complete player with great technique, vision and fitness. We will try to build a good partnership, but it's not just about two players, every player in the team must support one another as that's the only way to success."
While Balagumaran is still hunting for a foreign centre back to complete his senior import quota, he has also made a number of eye-catching local signings.
National right back Nazrul Ahmad Nazari headlines the six former LionsXII players they have brought in, including goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid, defenders Wahyudi Wahid, Raihan Abdul Rahman and Ali Hudzaifi Yusof, and midfielder Samuel Benjamin.
They are also boosted by the trio of former Courts Young Lions midfielder - two former TNP Dollah Kassim Award nominees in six-cap Anumanthan Mohan Kumar and Nur Ridho Ahmad Jafri, and Afiq Mat Noor.