Gabriel Quak nominated for SPL Best Player award with Plazibat and Doi
Sailors forward contesting Best Player gong with teammate Plazibat & Albirex's Doi
Only three points separated the top two sides as the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title race was decided on the final day last Saturday, and the Football Association of Singapore Awards Night looks set to be just as keenly contested today.
Unsurprisingly, with a collection of stars in their squad, Lion City Sailors produced two of the three nominees - Stipe Plazibat and Gabriel Quak - for the Player of the Year award despite finishing behind champions Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers in the SPL. White Swans forward Tomoyuki Doi is the third candidate.
Geylang International coach Noor Ali's pick for the top prize is his former player Quak, as he said: "Tomoyuki stepped up and was more prominent in the second half of the season, and Stipe was doing his goalscoring job really well before he got injured.
"But Gabriel was the one who did more throughout the season with a more all-round game. I coached him at Geylang in 2017, and the Thailand stint he had in 2018 really changed him mentally, and he has become a different player after that."
Football consultant Khairul Asyraf also tipped Quak to win, but saw the merits of the other two nominees.
He added: "Stipe found a new lease of life after being reverted to his No. 9 position instead of the midfield role he played at Hougang last year. As a reference point, he went back to doing what he does best - scoring lots of goals to become the league's top scorer (14 goals).
"Doi also did well to get into double figures (11) but, as an inside forward, he is a different player from Stipe, who has been a fox in the box."
While the Coach of the Year award features three nominees in Albirex's Keiji Shigetomi, Tampines' Gavin Lee and the Sailors' Aurelio Vidmar, local football observers feel it will be a two-horse race between the Japanese and the Singaporean.
Khairul is plumping for Lee, whom he feels did well with a limited budget compared to Vidmar, who helmed the better-resourced Sailors.
He added: "Gavin has shown tactical maturity and flexibility, toggling fluidly between a back three and a back four.
"His team were more measured and disciplined, and you see them defending better in the middle blocks, with players like Jordan Webb coming back to defend instead of waiting for the ball to transition into attack.
"Other than that, what many don't see is how well he has timed the training load in the different phases of this coronavirus-affected season - there were not many muscle injuries in his team despite the packed schedule."
Hougang United coach Clement Teo had kind words for Shigetomi, but also leaned towards Lee, who was the only coach to mastermind the double over Albirex this season.
He said: "Shigetomi is a dedicated coach who uses his players according to their strengths and manages to get the best out of a bunch of young players, some of whom were just university players without professional football experience.
"He also has tricks up his tactical sleeve - Hiroyoshi Kamata was an attacker last season and played at left-back this season.
"But Gavin edges it for me because of how he has stuck to his philosophy, got his players to buy in and created an identity of possession-based, passing football at Tampines. They ran Albirex close, but were unlucky to drop points elsewhere."
But for Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic, who won the Singapore Cup and Coach of the Year gong in 2014, the award has to go to the Japanese.
He said: "Shigetomi recognised that fitness was key and worked on that, his team were at least 20 per cent fitter than anyone else, and he managed to instil professionalism and teamwork in his players that took them to the next level.
"He deserves the award because he led a group, that were not the best team in the league, to win the title."
The other awards that will be presented at the ceremony include the SPL Team of the Year, Goal of the Year, best referee and assistant referee.
FAS AWARDS NIGHT NOMINEES*
PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
- Gabriel Quak (Lion City Sailors)
- Stipe Plazibat (Sailors)
- Tomoyuki Doi (Albirex Niigata)
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
- Harith Kanadi (Geylang International)
- Jacob Mahler (Young Lions)
- Saifullah Akbar (Sailors)
COACH OF THE YEAR:
- Aurelio Vidmar (Sailors)
- Gavin Lee (Tampines Rovers)
- Keiji Shigetomi (Albirex)
GOAL OF THE YEAR:
- Khairul Nizam (Geylang), a strike near the halfway line against Tampines on Nov 7
- Luiz Junior (Tanjong Pagar United), a strike from outside the penalty box against Tampines on Nov 22
- Reo Nishiguchi (Albirex), an acrobatic finish from an acute angle against Young Lions on Oct 18