Competition for places gives Sailors coach Vidmar a 'good headache'
SPL title favourites face Tampines in blockbuster season-opener tomorrow
Their maiden voyage last year failed to reach the promised land, but the big-spending Lion City Sailors believe that with fresh wind in their sails, they can live up to their billing as hot favourites for the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title.
Key to that is the competition for places, said coach Aurelio Vidmar, ahead of his side's blockbuster season-opener against title rivals Tampines Rovers tomorrow.
Bankrolled by billionaire Forrest Li, the Sailors have spared no expense in their chase for glory since becoming the SPL's first privatised outfit last year.
Their debut campaign may have ended with an underwhelming third placing in the eight-team league, but they have made a clear statement of intent in the off-season.
In January, they made headlines by acquiring Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes for $2.9 million from Portuguese top-flight club Rio Ave, making him the SPL's first million-dollar signing.
They have also brought in centre-back Jorge Fellipe from Saudi Arabian second-tier side Al-Tai, Singapore international Faris Ramli from Terengganu and talented youngsters in Amirul Adli and Nur Adam Abdullah from Tampines and Young Lions respectively.
The new arrivals, in addition to the array of talent already at the club - including last season's SPL Player of the Year Gabriel Quak, 2020 top scorer Stipe Plazibat, Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, and local stars such as Shahdan Sulaiman and Adam Swandi - have given Vidmar a "good headache".
The former Australia captain oversaw the club's only friendly - a 3-1 win over the Young Lions - and is bullish about his side's title challenge.
"It's an encouraging sign to see that the competition for places has been fierce. Everyone's motivated and doing well, so it's definitely a good headache," Vidmar said.
"We have to live up to the challenge (of being title favourites). Since the privatisation of the club last year, everyone is obviously going to talk about us, so we can't take a soft or lazy approach to go about our work.
"It's important that we go through the processes and be ready to perform every week. If we do, then obviously we can be ahead of everyone else and have a successful year."
Crucial to that objective is Lopes, who, along with Fellipe, has been assimilating well despite joining training only last month. The Sailors, however, are tight-lipped over whether the 26-year-old Brazilian will make his debut tomorrow.
As far as Stags coach Gavin Lee is concerned, Lopes' availability makes no difference as his tactics are not individual-specific.
"We believe in our playing style and identity," said Lee, who agreed that the Sailors are "title favourites on paper".
"We don't plan for individuals... they have a lot of good players, but so do we."
Tampines have made five new signings, with forward Armin Bosnjak from Kosovan top-flight side Ballkani the pick of the bunch.
The 26-year-old Montenegrin bagged a goal and two assists in a 6-1 demolition of Hougang United in a friendly last Friday, and Lee said while Bosnjak still needs more time to bed in, he will feature against the Sailors.
SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
- Albirex Niigata v Hougang United
- Lion City Sailors v Tampines Rovers
- Geylang Int'l v Tanjong Pagar United
- Young Lions v Balestier Khalsa
(All games at 5.30pm. Live on Singtel Ch 111/112, StarHub Ch 201/202 & 1 Play Sports' Facebook page)