Albirex star Inui getting back to best form
Albirex star shows signs of being back to his best in second spell with the club
ALBIREX NIIGATA v GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL
(Tomorrow, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
It looked like a perfect homecoming when Albirex Niigata welcomed the return of a former fans' favourite, Tatsuro Inui, at the start of the 2016 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign.
But, for the talented attacking midfielder, his second stint hasn't gone as smoothly as expected.
Eleven games into the season, he is still struggling to really recapture the form that made him one of the league's most sought-after stars.
His first spell at the Jurong East Stadium (2010-11) was a resounding success as he netted 20 goals in 62 league matches, despite playing mainly as a left-winger.
He then left for Warriors FC (then known as SAFFC), with whom he played for two years, before returning to Japan for a stint with third-tier SC Sagamihara.
He returned to the S.League last season to play for Geylang International, but failed to reach the same heights, which was why returning to Albirex seemed to be the perfect tonic for his ailing career.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo, though, believes that now that the transition period is over, fans will start to see the best of Inui again.
"It took him some time to adjust to the team because he had some injuries at the beginning of the season," Naruo told The New Paper.
"He also has the ability to change the tempo of the game, which is why I previously used him off the bench as a wild card.
"However, he is able to produce his best performance when he starts.
"Now, his style of play and the team's tactics have integrated well and, if he can raise the performance of others with his play, he will be an essential player for us."
Naruo's optimism stems from Inui's recent fine displays.
After starting only two of their first nine outings, he has lately begun to look more like his old self.
In his last two games, he grabbed a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Garena Young Lions, before netting once more in his team's 6-0 win over Balestier Khalsa.
Inui, 26, will be hoping for his fine run to continue when his side come up against former employers Geylang tomorrow.
Said the Chiba native: "I may have played for Geylang last year, but Albirex really showed that they wanted me to come back, which is why I decided to play for them again.
"I need to produce a good performance and help Albirex win the next game.
"This is also how I express my gratitude to my former club."
Part of his motivation will come from a desire to help the White Swans land their first S.League title.
They have a four-point lead, and a game in hand over second-placed Tampines Rovers.
An Inui back to his best can only spell trouble for their title rivals.
If he has his way, Albirex will be making a clean sweep of all the silverware at stake.
He said: "My personal target is to better 10 goals and 10 assists.
"The team are aiming to win all three titles on offer and it's not an easy feat, so we'll have to do our best in every game.
"But if we do so, you can expect us to win all three titles."
- Hougang United v Garena Young Lions (7.30pm, Hougang Stadium)
- Warriors FC v Balestier Khalsa (7.30pm, Choa Chu Kang Stadium)