Albirex unfazed despite losing skipper Kyoga Nakamura to Tampines
Albirex aim to rebuild to regain glory, as captain Nakamura joins Tampines
Former Singapore Premier League champions Albirex Niigata will have to do without captain Kyoga Nakamura as they bid to rediscover their glory days next season.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who was nominated for the Young Player of the Year and Goal of the Year awards at the annual FAS Nite, has been snapped up by rivals Tampines Rovers.
When contacted, Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee said: "There is no doubt Kyoga was one of our best players. He had exemplary conduct.
"He contributed a lot to the team, but we are sure we will get better players.
"We want to better our performance next year, and our ambition is to regain the title.
"We'll sign better players than him."
Thanking the White Swans fans on the Albirex website, Nakamura said: "The next season, I will be your opponent. But I hope you will still support me as a player."
Albirex finished fourth in the nine-team SPL this year after dominating local football for three seasons.
Not only did the Japanese outfit clinch three consecutive league titles from 2016 to last year, but they also swept all other trophies - three Singapore Cups, three Community Shields and two League Cups.
With the likes of Nakamura leaving, it will be a massive rebuilding job next year.
The Jurong East-based club have retained only three players - long-serving midfielder Hiroyoshi Kamata, reserve goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma'at and local winger Zamani Zamri.
Among their slew of new signings is former Urawa Red Diamonds youth player Kazuki Hashioka.
"Kazuki is a winger who has the speed to poach goals for us," Koh said of the 22-year-old, whose younger brother, Daiki, is a Japanese international who plays for Urawa's J-League team.
"I hope our new players will be able to adjust to the Singapore weather and style of play, and integrate fast with the team."
On the local front, the club have signed Singapore Under-18 midfielders Ong Yu En and Iman Hakim Ibrahim, who was named The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award winner last month.
Koh hopes that the two teenagers will seize the opportunity to shine and open the door for trials with their parent club in Japan.
"Iman has a lot of potential," Koh said. "We think that both Iman and Yu En can be national team players. Our hope is to help them become Albirex players in the J.League."
But first, they must aim to reach the standard of former skipper Nakamura, who has an eye for goal as well.
The Japanese playmaker scored seven this year, including a 35-metre lob in a 3-3 draw in July against Home United, earning him a nomination for the Goal of the Year accolade.
KYOGA'S NEW MISSION
Not surprisingly, Tampines coach Gavin Lee is looking forward to working with his new signing.
Lee said: "Kyoga's a standout player who I believe will fit in with our style and system."
The Stags begin their new season with a home match against Bali United in the AFC Champions League qualifiers on Jan 14.
The club, who had lost at this stage from 2016 to 2018, have wasted no time preparing for it. They started pre-season training on Monday.
Said Lee: "I think it will be a good test for us. We aim to win every game, but the results are beyond our control.
"My job as a coach is to guide a team regardless of who comes or goes... We can only control the process but we will look to improve our performance."