A new Argentinean forward has started training with Tampines Rovers, raising questions over the future of marquee signing Martin Wagner.
Eyebrows were raised at the Clementi Stadium on Wednesday when an unrecognisable player lined up for the Stags' Prime League side in a friendly against National Football League (NFL) Division 1 side Singapore Cricket Club, and showed glimpses of quality throughout the game.
He is believed to be Nicolas Ramirez, a 25-year-old who began his career with Argentine Primera Division side Lanus and was last on the books of Uruguayan giants Penarol.
Ramirez was recently in Southeast Asia having trials with big-spending Malaysia Super League outfit Darul Takzim, although a prospective move to the Johor-based club fell through as they decided to sign Argentinean striker Leonel Nunez instead.
When questioned about a potential new import, Tampines coach Nenad Bacina confirmed there was a foreigner joining his team for training, but played down suggestions he could be signed when the transfer window reopens in June.
"Have you seen him today [Thursday]?" the Croat replied with a wry smile, when asked about a possible new player.
"He asked if he can join us for training so we allowed him to. It's still too early to consider any changes."
Nonetheless, the presence of a new foreigner at Tampines will add more question marks to the already uncertain future of Wagner, given he has failed to have to impact he was expected to make when announced as the club's marquee signing for the 2013 season.
Although he has briefly displayed his playmaking ability so far in the campaign, the 27-year-old central midfielder is said to be struggling with acclimatising to the weather and style of football in Singapore, as well as communication problems.
Just last month, after a 2-1 win over Balestier Khalsa in the league, Bacina revealed he was looking to give Wagner as much time as possible to assimilate himself into the team.
"I am giving Martin time to settle down," he explained. "The main problem right now is communication, whereby he's having difficulties communicating with me and the rest of the players.
"This can be slightly problematic because he plays in midfield, where it is very vital to communicate. I believe he's a good player and I want to alleviate the pressure on him."
In the 11 competitive games Tampines have played so far, Wagner has started only five and only played a full 90 minutes once; a 2-0 win over Courts Young Lions that was eventually awarded as a 3-0 victory after the opponents were ruled to have fielded ineligible players.
In the six games where he has started as a substitute, the ex-Racing Club man was twice left on the bench even though Tampines only made two substitutions in games against Balestier and Home United.
The fact that Wagner's failure to make the starting XI is no longer remarkable exemplifies just how disappointing his Stags career has been so far, and it seems a long time ago now that he was unveiled as their big-name signing with plenty of fanfare before the start of the season.
"We tried various means to find a suitable marquee player," Tampines chairman Teo Hock Seng said at the player's unveiling back in January.
"When the announcement about the [S-league's new] marquee player rule was made, Tampines weren't just looking for a player in any position.
"Most of our players are very comfortable in their own position, but our technical committee advised that it would be good for us to get a classy attacking midfielder.
"We concluded Martin Wagner would fit our bill in terms of technical ability and we believe he will fit into the team."
Wagner himself revealed back then that he was happy at receiving the opportunity to ply his trade in Singapore's top flight.
"I'm pleased to join a club like Tampines," he said. "I've already met very good people and received good support from my colleagues in the team.
"I will do my best to achieve good results for the team and fulfil the expectations we have."
Given the S-league transfer window only opens at the start of June, Wagner will have at least nine more games to prove his worth at the club.
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