Tampines upbeat about title with new goalkeeper
The final piece of the Tampines Rovers jigsaw has finally fallen into place.
At the club's pre-season press conference at the Holiday Inn Atrium yesterday, chairman Teo Hock Seng revealed that he was on the verge of signing Singapore-capped goalkeeper Fadhil Salim on loan from Hougang United, ahead of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign.
"Bill Ng (the Hougang chairman) did me a favour," said Teo. "Not signed, but will be done."
The goalkeeping department at Tampines has been a worry for the club after Singapore No. 1 Hassan Sunny left to sign for Thai Army two weeks ago, leaving the Stags with Joey Sim and Siddiq Durimi, who were both used sparingly by their previous teams last season.
Now, in 32-year-old Fadhil, the Stags have snagged one of the best-performing goalkeepers in the S.League in the last few seasons.
And Teo, along with newly appointed coach V Sundramoorthy, now believe their 22-man squad can mount an assault on a first S.League title since 2013.
Tampines, with five S.League titles to their name, failed to win a trophy last year.
They finished third in the S.League, behind winners Warriors FC, and fell at the semi-final stage of the RHB Singapore Cup.
They did not make it past the group stages of the StarHub League Cup.
Sundram, who famously led the LionsXII to the Malaysian Super League title in 2013, told The New Paper: "Fadhil's inclusion is a boost to the team.
"He is a very good goalkeeper, but we already have two good goalkeepers in the squad, and he will have to be at his best to earn a spot in the first 11.
"I'm happy we have three capable shot-stoppers. It will be a long season. There are bound to be injuries, suspensions and loss of form, so I'm very happy with my options."
Fadhil, who was not present at the press conference, told TNP later: "I want to thank Hougang chairman Bill Ng, and Mr Teo and Sundram for making this possible.
"It's really exciting to join a club with such great history in the S.League and I hope I can do my part and contribute to the team."
Yesterday, Tampines formally revealed their new-look squad to the media.
Only six players - defenders Jufri Taha and Shaiful Esah, midfielders Mustafic Fahrudin, Ismadi Mukhtar and Jamil Ali, and striker Noh Alam Shah - have been retained.
Among the 16 new arrivals are six foreign imports, all hailing from Malaysian sides.
Sundram, who coached Malaysian Premier League outfit Negeri Sembilan last season, revealed he had "been tracking them for a year" and he's confident none will be a dud.
With a squad packed with experience - 13 of their 16 local players have been capped at international level - the 49-year-old coach is relishing the season ahead.
"The boys are learning every day how football should be played the way we want to play," he said.
"We have the material and players who want to listen and work towards a goal and become champions.
"We have assembled a good squad to play good, attractive football... and when we do that, the chances of winning are great.
"We want to go out there and win every tournament."
Teo, who was in fine mood, stole the show with his quick-witted barbs and wisecracks.
He is confident Sundram is the man to take Tampines forward.
The chairman has been called "Teo Hock Sack" in the past for his impatience with under-performing players and coaches, but believes the man known as "The Dazzler" during his playing days will not let him down.
"It's how you relate to the players," he said.
"Tampines Rovers players are not so easy to (win over). They regard themselves very highly.
"Now, we have a coach they will listen to. "
The charismatic Teo, 68, who has been at the helm since 1999, was in bullish mood about his team's chances this season, although he warned he did not want to "jump the gun" as little is known about traditional title-rivals Albirex Niigata and Brunei DPMM.
Indra Sahdan, the former national captain who was lured out of retirement earlier this week to sign for the Stags, is excited.
"Hearing the chairman's words, to be honest, I do feel a bit of pressure," said the 35-year-old.
"But it's a good kind of pressure. We must remember that, being Tampines Rovers, we can't be slack.
"As for me and Alam Shah, we might not be young, but we can still give defences a few problems."
Sundram on his imports...
Eddy Viator (Guadelope)
“A centre back with speed and technique.”
Sreco Mitrovic (Australia)
“Technical playmaker with an eye for the killer pass.”.
(Australia) “He’s a talented youngster who can pick out players in the attacking third.”
*Under-21 Prime League import
Fabrice Noel (Haiti)
“Physically strong attacker, speedy and tricky with the ball.”
Mateo Roskam (Croatia)
“He’s the targetman up front. Good in the air and can shoot well with both feet.”
Predrag Pocuca (Croatia)
“An orthodox centre back. No-nonsense, strong and good in the air.”
"You can call us Dad's Army, Old Women's Navy, we don't care. We have to take it in our stride."
- Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng, on whether he would be bothered if people called his team Dad's Army, a label thrust on the 2004 Tampines team featuring veterans like Nazri Nasir, Rafi Ali and Mirko Grabovac
"Wherever I go, everyone's telling me: 'Eh, you got a good coach, you know?' From the valets at the hotels to the gardener at the greens, to the groundsmen, to a taxi driver."
- On new head coach V Sundramoorthy
"Now, we have a coach with brains and b***s. There are no females here, I can say what I want."
- Again on Sundram
"You bring a foreign coach here, he has to learn the culture, tolerate the stupidity and complications of handling a local football team, and he has a lot of problems."
- On why he preferred Sundram over a foreign coach
"This year, we won't be playing in the Charity Shield. But I think in 2017 there will be no Charity Shield, because we will win both (S.League and Singapore Cup), so we don't need to play."
- Expressing confidence in his team's ability to win honours
"With due respect, look at my team and look at those teams."
- On what makes Tampines' promise to challenge for honours different from other S.League teams who have also aimed high
"You go and play a Chinese team (in China) in February, when the temperature is 23 deg C... How can you expect our fellows eating nasi lemak and lontong every day to play there? Come on."
- On the gap between S.League clubs and Asia's best, after Singapore champions Warriors FC were beaten 3-0 in their Asian Champions League qualifier against Chinese club Guangzhou R&F on Tuesday
"The papers always label Tampines Rovers as a "giant". We're not. Giant is a supermarket. We are highly spirited. Can you change it to that? Giant is where you buy toilet paper, five rolls for $1."
- Joking about how he would prefer the Stags to be referenced in the press