SPL rivals welcome Diego Lopes' big-money arrival
Despite Sailors' stacked squad, they see record transfer as a fillip for the league
The Lion City Sailors' capture of Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes last week - the first million-dollar signing in the local league's history - has set the football fraternity here talking.
The Singapore Premier League's (SPL) only privatised club signed the 26-year-old from Portuguese top-tier team Rio Ave for 1.8 million euros (S$2.9m) on a three-year deal last Wednesday.
The move dwarfs the previous transfer record of $50,000, set when former national striker Fazrul Nawaz moved to Hougang United from Tampines Rovers in 2018.
Lopes' high-profile transfer has raised the eyebrows of players and coaches, with many expecting the ex-Palmeiras and Benfica player to be a quality signing. He is awaiting relevant permits and should arrive next month.
"Good for the SPL, after so long someone is coming in with a huge price tag and anyone who is coming in at $3m has to be good," Tanjong Pagar United team manager Noh Alam Shah said of Lopes, who leaves Rio Ave after scoring 25 goals in 201 appearances in all competitions.
Added Hougang United coach Clement Teo: "In the Singapore context, it is crazy... But, it is a step forward because there is a reason why players cost as much as they do."
Besides providing quality on the pitch, Lopes, who is able to play anywhere across the midfield, is expected to be a draw.
"This comes as very good news and, given our state of football, this is one of the ways we can improve," said Tampines defender Baihakki Khaizan.
"News like this creates a lot of interest, headlines and it becomes a good marketing tool."
Geylang International coach Noor Ali added: "Good to have such quality foreigners coming here, it will bring fans back because if you sign someone for $3m, he is someone to watch."
With this marquee signing and a slew of other high-profile moves, the Sailors have clearly signalled their ambitions for the upcoming season, which is scheduled to kick off on Feb 20.
After finishing third in the SPL last season, the Sailors have boosted their ranks. They have added 2019 Player of the Year Faris Ramli, and defenders Jorge Fellipe from Saudi Arabian second-tier side Al-Tai, and Amirul Adli from Tampines.
Club chairman Forrest Li believes the Sailors' latest foreign imports will provide a fillip to not just them, but the whole local football community.
"Having top-quality players like Diego and Jorge... will give us the boost that we need but, more than that, they will hopefully give Singapore football a lift," said Li in a press release.
"I hope they will help reignite interest in the SPL and give Singapore football fans more reasons to tune into the local game."
While the stockpile of talent at the privatised club has created a buzz, it has also raised concerns of an uneven playing field.
One member of the fraternity declined comment on the perceived advantage to the Sailors, while another said any negative reaction could be met with a warning. But most individuals The New Paper spoke to believe signings like Lopes will benefit the league as a whole.
"Every club stands a chance to win the league title, as long as they plan ahead and work hard," said Alam Shah.
"But of course, Sailors will have a higher chance than the rest... That said, we have to see this move in terms of the betterment of Singapore football.
"Look at Johor Darul Ta'zim, even our own player Hariss Harun is well taken care of.
"It's good to see Forrest has invested so much in the Sailors. I hope they emulate JDT... and the Sailors become a force to be reckoned with in the region."
Added Baihakki: "I don't think we should see this in a negative light... this will be a clear message to other clubs and future investors that privatisation should be the way forward.
"I don't think we should criticise the Lopes signing, we should look forward and try to compete, rather than say, 'Oh they have everything, they will win'."
Meanwhile, Gavin Lee, coach of title contenders Tampines, felt other clubs have also reinforced well.
He said: "We definitely do not see it as a disadvantage as the Sailors can play only 11 players.
"It will make for an exciting season as Geylang, Hougang have recruited well, so everybody's up for it."
Last season's SPL top scorer Stipe Plazibat, stoked at the prospect of linking up with Lopes, said quality should always be welcome.
He added: "Why should it be unfair? That's only one player out of 20 plus, no matter how good is he, at the end of the day, this is (a) team sport."