The Albirex way to glory
White Swans adopt own unique philosophy and it is paying off
HOME UNITED v ALBIREX NIIGATA
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Bishan Stadium)
It has been a week since Albirex Niigata lifted the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title for the first time in their 13-year history.
The Japanese club are deserving champions given their all-conquering displays throughout this season, which have also seen them win The New Paper League Cup and Community Shield, with an RHB Singapore Cup final against Tampines Rovers to come on Oct 29.
The newly crowned champions visit Bishan Stadium tonight in an S.League encounter and they will use the match as part of their preparations for the Cup final, as Albirex go for an unprecedented sweep of all the silverware on offer this year.
While they have garnered plenty of plaudits for what they have accomplished on the field, there has been plenty of work behind the scenes which has provided the platform for the team's super form this season.
Over the last few years, Albirex have assembled a squad capable of challenging for honours, as illustrated by top-three finishes in three of the past four seasons before this season's title triumph.
Players come and go each year - only seven from last season's side were retained - but the club leave no stone unturned to ensure that high-quality footballers arrive at Jurong East Stadium.
"We cast our net far and wide to get the best available young players suitable to play in the S.League," club vice president and general manager Koh Mui Tee told TNP.
"Apart from recommendations from Albirex Japan and Japan Soccer College for players based in Niigata, we hold trials in Japan with our counterparts every December and have rigorous discussions to select players suitable for the type of football Albirex aim to achieve.
"In particular, the quality of university football in Japan has improved tremendously and even our chairman (Daisuke Korenaga) watches a lot of games to scout for potential players."
Once the squad have been picked, it is the coach's job to get the best out of them and, this year, Naoki Naruo has pulled it off spectacularly.
By his own admission, Naruo returned at the start of this season a more mature and experienced tactician, after a previous spell at the helm in 2009, when he was still learning his trade.
Albirex do some things differently on the training ground, like holding morning sessions, while the rest of the S.League clubs prefer to work in the evening.
But Naruo, 42, insists there is no secret to getting his charges to deliver on their potential.
"It is based on our belief that it is very important for the players' condition to rest well at night and train in the morning. It allows them to organise the rest of their day and relax by the evening," Naruo told TNP.
"Each player has different motivations. Some just want to play their best in each game. Others do that already thinking they want to play for a big club in the future.
"When you are able to align the targets of each individual with that of the team, that motivates all the players."
Naruo also has his own way of approaching matches.
"Some coaches want to prevent the opponents from playing to their strengths but I find this to be a negative thing.
"Instead, my philosophy is to utilise the abilities of my players and target the weaknesses of the opposition, and I believe we were able to play to our strengths."
Another area which the White Swans have made waves in has been their outreach work, which has boosted their fan base.
Koh said: "We view ourselves as a local club and it is important to engage our local community, starting with the residents of Yuhua.
"In Yuhua, we participate in community events regularly and jointly run the Yuhua Albirex Football Academy, which has been in existence since 2013.
"It is natural that we must strive to contribute to the communities of Singapore through football, but this is something we see all the S.League clubs doing in their respective communities."
We cast our net far and wide to get the best available young players...
— Albirex VP and general manager Koh Mui Tee