S-League: The five who'll shine

S-League: The five who'll shine
Players: (clockwise from top left) Home United’s Ken Ilso, Serbian playmaker Tarik Cmajcanin, Tampines Rovers' Fabian Kwok, Albirex Niigata's Fumiya Kogure and Hougang United's Fareez Farhan

KEN ILSO

HOME UNITED

Reading the works of Paulo Coelho and mentoring young athletes back in his homeland Denmark.

When these are the first two things that come to his mind when asked about his hobbies, it becomes apparent that Ken Ilso is not your average footballer.

Already, plenty is expected of Home United's new striker, given he began his career in Holland with Eredivisie outfit Heerenveen and has played in the German Bundesliga with Fortuna Dusseldorf.

Thus, it might seem slightly strange that Ilso has made the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League his latest port of call in what has already been a well-travelled career.

But, when the Dane starts talking about his love for experiencing new place and cultures, it is easy to see why he is looking forward to the coming season with the Protectors.

"One of the main reasons why I love my job is that I get to travel with football," he said.

HOME ATMOSPHERE

"You find yourself as part of a group and, especially at a place like Home with such a good atmosphere, you very quickly get under the nails of the culture.

"I'm just really looking forward to the new season.

"Given we're traditionally one of the biggest clubs in the league, there's always bound to be a lot of talk on whether we're going to win this or that, but we just want some action now."

Although Ilso revealed he is equally comfortable playing in a more creative, withdrawn role, it is likely he will be deployed as the focal point of the Home attack following a series of impressive displays in pre-season, including a well-taken brace in a 4-2 defeat by Thai Port.

Despite the pressure that will come with being Home's main man - following in the footsteps of Frederic Mendy and Lee Kwan Woo - the 28-year-old insists he is unfazed.

"I'm very aware there's going to be pressure given people always say strikers win games, even more so given I'm a foreigner," Ilso added. "But it is the effort of the whole team that wins championships.

If we can achieve the goals we've set collectively, I believe we have a good chance of finding ourselves at the top of the table come the end of the season."

FACTFILE

Date of birth: Dec 2, 1986

Place of birth: Solrod Strand, Denmark

Height: 1.81m

Weight: 73kg

Nationality: Danish

Previous clubs: Heerenveen, SonderjsykE, FC Midtjylland, Fortuna Dusseldorf, VfL Bochum, Guangzhou R&F

Favourite player: Afonso Alves

TARIK CMAJCANIN

BALESTIER KHALSA

Replacing South Korean midfield general Park Kang Jin was never going to be an easy task for Balestier Khalsa, considering he had been a pivotal part of their engine room for the past three years.

However, in Tarik Cmajcanin, the Tigers may just have uncovered a player equally capable of being the crucial link between defence and attack.

He may not be the all-action, box-to-box midfielder that Park is, but with his silky dribbling, an eye for the killer pass and precise dead-ball deliveries, the Serb appears to be every bit the modern playmaker.

Having joined the Tigers, who have won the RHB Singapore Cup and the StarHub League Cup in the last two seasons, Cmajcanin has already set his sights at bringing more silverware back to the Toa Payoh Stadium.

"Of course, in football, you have to take it game by game, but I'm hoping to help the club achieve some great results this year," he told The New Paper.

"We want to win at least one trophy this year and I believe in this team.

"This year, we're playing in the AFC Cup and - being an international tournament - it's great experience and exposure for players.

"Hopefully, we can win something this year, so we get the chance to do so again next year."

It has been less than three months since the 20-year-old left his homeland to begin the next stage of his career in Singapore.

Nonetheless, Cmajcanin, who is staying with compatriot Emir Lotinac, reveals he has had no problems adjusting to life in a new country.

With a wry smile, he said: "It's really cold back home at the moment, so I'm actually enjoying the hot weather!"

"It helps to have foreigners at the club who also speak the same language; Emir's been here for a year while Igor (Cerina) has been here for one and a half years, so they both know Singapore pretty well.

"I'm very happy with the club and what coach Marko (Kraljevic) wants to do with this good team.

Hopefully, I can stay here for many more years."

FACTFILE

Date of birth: June 18, 1994

Place of birth: Novi Pazar, Serbia

Height: 1.78m

Weight: 71kg

Nationality: Serbian

Previous clubs: FK Novi Pazar, Sindjelic Nis

Favourite player: Zinedine Zidane

FUMIYA KOGURE

Albirex Niigata

Fumiya Kogure made his debut in the top flight of Japanese football as an 18-year-old and remained on the fringes of Albirex Niigata's J-League team for five seasons, before being loaned out in the past two years.

But this year, the midfielder (above) will embark on a new challenge after signing for Albirex Niigata (S).

Kogure will be one of two players in the squad with J-League Division 1 experience, the other being 35-year-old goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.

Still only 25, Kogure would still be considered young in most teams but, given the average age of the White Swans squad, he admits he will have to take on the responsibility of being a senior player this season.

"The team have very young players and I'm a little older compared to my teammates," he said.

"I hope to bring my experience from the J-League to guide the younger players.

"Hopefully, I can help them reach a high level of performance so we can perform well in the league."

Japanese players have a history of doing well in the S.League.

For instance, Issey Nakajima-Farran and Taisuke Akiyoshi are among Albirex's alumni who have earned moves to Europe.

Although he maintains a humble and soft-spoken demeanour, Kogure is quietly confident he can replicate the success his compatriots have had and light up this S.League season.

"I'm actually really enjoying my football right now and I don't feel any pressure," the Tokyo native explained.

"With my ability, I not only want to contribute to my team, but also to the league as a whole."

FACTFILE

Date of birth: June 28, 1989

Place of birth: Tokyo, Japan

Height: 1.78m

Weight: 63kg

Nationality: Japanese

Previous clubs: Albirex Niigata

Favourite player: Andrea Pirlo

BY THE NUMBERS

45 - Albirex Niigata's new signing Fumiya Kogure made 45 appearances for the club's J-League side. Their new goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, who also has J-League Division 1 experience, made 75 appearances with Albirex and Shimizu S-Pulse.

FABIAN KWOK

TAMPINES ROVERS

In the past two years, Fabian Kwok was one of the first names on the Geylang International starting 11 and established himself as one of their most-dependable players.

But he did not want to rest on his laurels. Now, at Tampines Rovers, he will have to fight with captain Fahrudin Mustafic, two foreigners and ex-LionsXII man Aqhari Abdullah for a place in the Stags' engine room.

But Kwok, who turns 26 later this month, insists he would not have it any other way.

"I decided to join Tampines because I wanted to take this opportunity and see what it's like to play for one of Singapore's biggest clubs," he said.

"This is important if I want to improve myself because not only do you fight with quality players for a spot, but there's also a lot to learn from them every day.

"I want to play my best for Tampines and hopefully contribute to a successful season."

FAREEZ FARHAN

HOUGANG UNITED

He made his professional debut at 16 and was touted as the next big thing in Singapore football but, like many other young prospects, Fareez Farhan found his football career hampered by national service (NS), which he completed last September.

However, showing maturity beyond his years, the 20-year-old acknowledged that was his duty, and is now focused only on getting his career back on track at Hougang United.

"Obviously, I had some interruptions in the last two years due to NS, but it's something every guy has to do in Singapore," he said.

I'm just very excited to be coming to a new club to start afresh and the coach (Salim Moin) has shown me a lot of faith.

"I'm still young but now is the time for me to have a real go at establishing myself, and then who knows what could happen in the future?"


This article was first published on Mar 1, 2015.
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