Hougang United aiming for SPL title with raft of new signings
Cheetahs announce signing of Sailors defender Yamazaki, with more set to follow
Following a disappointing 2020, Hougang United have signalled their ambition of landing their first Singapore Premier League (SPL) title with some eye-catching moves in the transfer market.
The Cheetahs announced their first big-name signing yesterday - former Lion City Sailors defender Kaishu Yamazaki who has joined on a one-year-deal - and The New Paper understands that forwards Shahril Ishak, Tomoyuki Doi and Khairul Nizam are set to follow suit.
Hougang endured a dismal campaign last season, when they finished sixth out of eight teams, failing to build on their best-ever performance (third place) the year before.
However, coach Clement Teo is already looking ahead, focusing on building a balanced side with an offensive edge.
The signing of the versatile Yamazaki fulfils just that.
The 23-year-old was deployed primarily as a centre-back in his first year in the SPL with Albirex Niigata in 2018, and helped the Japanese outfit to a clean sweep of honours.
The White Swans retained Yamazaki for the following year and his impressive displays earned him a nomination for the 2019 SPL Young Player of the Year award.
He also earned a spot in the league's Team of the Year in 2019, which he replicated last year after helping the Sailors finish third.
While Yamazaki has been used mainly in defence, Teo envisions a more advanced role for his new signing, who has scored five league goals.
"Kaishu has done well since he joined Albirex... we learnt from him that he is actually an attacking midfielder," Teo told The New Paper.
"We are looking to play him there... he has scored lovely goals, including a Goal of the Year contender during his time with Albirex as well as a beautiful strike against Geylang (International) last year.
"So he has shown he is an attacking midfielder rather than a defender.
"But his adaptability and versatility will give us an advantage as he offers us very good options both as a defensive-minded midfielder or in defence."
On his new role, the 1.82m Yamazaki added: "I'm very excited and happy to play as an attacking midfielder. I'm looking to help in the offensive part, to score goals and I'm ready to help defensively as well when the coach needs me.
"We have a strong team and I want to help my team win the league title."
With Shahril, Doi and Khairul Nizam set to join the likes of Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi and Shawal Anuar, Hougang will have no lack of firepower.
The capture of Doi, 23, represents a great piece of business by the Cheetahs, as the Japanese hitman's 11 goals from 14 matches helped Albirex seal the SPL title last year.
Shahril, who left Sailors at the end of last season, has a wealth of experience, having amassed 138 caps for Singapore, winning three Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championships.
At club level, the 36-year-old lifted the Malaysian Super League title in 2013 with the now-defunct LionsXII.
His performances earned him the 2013 AFF Player of the Year, while he has also bagged the 2010 SPL Player of the Year with Sailors (then known as Home United).
Nizam, too, has been a seasoned campaigner at 29.
Teo declined to comment when asked about the trio, but when pressed on what kind of signings he was looking at, the 54-year-old said: "We want players with the right attitude and mentality...
"We are going for the title, we want to assemble an attack-minded outfit with good balance, and the signing of Kaishu fits the bill."
Hougang have also brought in goalkeeper Mukundan Maran, while defender Afiq Yunos rejoins the club, after his stint with top-flight Thai outfit Trat ended last April.
"Afiq has been out of action for a while, so he is struggling a little, but we fully understand," Teo said.
"He is a fantastic guy on and off the field, and we see that he is working very hard to regain his fitness, really pushing himself, so we are very happy with him."