Despite losing the core of their side with Sutee Suksomkit, Noh Alam Shah, Fahrudin Mustafic and Ridhuan Muhammad all departing, Tampines Rovers head coach Vorawan Chitavanich has still declared his side ambition is still to be S-league champions in the coming season.
Vorawan had responded to the lose of key players by building the team around a new nucleus of players, and unsurprisingly, that nucleus included Frenchman Benoit Croissant, former Kashima Antlers defender Seiji Kaneko and Akihiro Nakamura, who have all extended their stays.
Remarkably, however, neither former Young Player of the Year Khairul Amri nor new signing Aleksandar Duric have made it into the 48-year-old’s “Super Six”, with Qiu Li and Aliff Shafaein looking set to play key roles in the attacking setup instead.
Rounding off the spine is defensive midfielder Shukor Zailan, who had managed 23 starts in his first season with Tampines and proved himself to be a hardworking learner alongside the combative Nakamura.
“At the back, the team will depend on Ben and Kaneko,” said Vorawan.
“In midfield, we have Aki and Shukor, and in front, we have Aliff and Qiu Li. These six players will form the new central bone of the team, and that is the main change from what we had last year.
“For the other four positions, I am going to try different players, like the new players who have come like Jamil Ali. Even though some are carrying small injuries, they are showing good understanding with one another from the days when they were at other clubs.
“Now, they look comfortable. But when we go for our pre-season tour of Thailand, we will know how well this team will play together in the S.League.”
With the core of the team settled, Tampines will be eager to shake off the spectre of 2009, when a poor start to the campaign saw them stuck with six draws in their first ten games.
The bad run turned out to be decisive as they ended the season eleven points behind champions SAFFC, leaving them empty-handed for the third consecutive year after they had lifted the RHB Singapore Cup in 2006.
Still, there was no doubting Vorawan’s fine reputation, as he has consistently kept the Stags in the top three together with the Warriors and Home United for all but one season since taking the coaching reins six years ago.
That is the minimum standard he has set for his charges this time around as well, although he pointed out that there could be a new challenger he needs to watch out for.
“Everybody will look at SAFFC, Home and Tampines to finish top,” he said.
“Every year, people say the same thing. But I think maybe this year, there may be a surprise from Gombak (United), because they have become a very strong team with all the African quality players there.
“But we have been above Gombak every year since I have been at Tampines. This year, we will watch out for them and make sure we stay above them, so we can show we are still a top-three team.
“In the six years I have been in Tampines, this club has become a top-three team at least. Of course, we must aim high, so the target is to become champion in every competition where we have a chance to win
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