2018 Golden Boot winner Shuhei Hoshino hopes to shine with Balestier
2018 Golden Boot winner wants to help wooden spoonists to top-three finish
Two years after winning the Golden Boot award in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), Shuhei Hoshino is back - and hungry to clinch the top scorer's award again.
But, unlike his first stint, when he plundered 19 goals to help Albirex Niigata retain the SPL title, the Japanese sharpshooter will have his work cut out after joining Balestier Khalsa, last season's wooden spoonists.
Still, the 24-year-old forward is confident of propelling the Tigers to a top-three finish.
While Hoshino speaks halting English, he left nobody in doubt with his objective for the new season, which kicks off on Feb 29.
"Twenty goals. My target," he replied without hesitation when The New Paper asked about his aim.
Probed further, he said: "Here, we have good players. Foreigners are very good and local players are too. They've welcomed me like family. I want to help them to score the goals."
Hoshino's optimism stems from the support that he will receive from the likes of Croatian forwards Sime Zuzul and Kristijan Krajcek, who have been retained.
The trio honed their partnership during an 11-0 win over Singapore Khalsa Association last Saturday, with Hoshino scoring a hat-trick and Zuzul netting a double. Local striker Hazzuwan Halim also bagged a brace.
But it is not just up front that the Tigers have boosted their ranks.
Long-serving goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam is also back after missing most of last season due to injury, while new signings such as winger Zulfadhmi Suzliman have beefed up the squad.
A call from Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic proved to be the clincher for Hoshino, who spent last season in the third tier of Korean football with Busan Transportation Corporation.
During the 2018 Sultan of Selangor's Cup, Kraljevic, who was coach of the Singapore Selection side, had picked Hoshino, who scored in their 1-1 draw with the Selangor Selection.
Not surprisingly, Kraljevic can't wait to work with his prized capture.
"It is exciting for the club and for me because we are getting someone who was top scorer of the league just two years ago," said the veteran coach.
"Everyone knows the quality he has. To have him as a forward is very good for us, especially when you consider who we can put alongside him, with the other foreigners and players like Hazzuwan.
"With us adding him into the squad, we have a good mix of young players and experienced, quality foreign players."
It is also hoped that Hoshino's discipline will rub off on the rest of the players.
His former side Albirex are known for their discipline and unrelenting desire for excellence, and he showed he had lost none of that hunger.
Arriving an hour before training, he did stretches by himself on the stands of the Toa Payoh Stadium, before this interview with TNP.
If the Tigers are to cause any ripples in the coming season, they would hope Hoshino's impact is felt on the pitch and, just as importantly, off it.