S.League's 'big three' hoping to buck trend of never winning League Cup

S.League's 'big three' hoping to buck trend of never winning League Cup
PHOTO: The New Paper

They have accounted for 16 S.League titles and 13 Singapore Cup triumphs in 19 seasons. Yet the three most successful clubs in Singapore's professional football era - Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers and Home United - have never lifted the eight-year-old Singapore League Cup.

This season's tournament, sponsored by The New Paper, kicks off today, with the S.League's "big three" hoping to buck the trend. Home coach Philippe Aw, who began coaching the club's youth teams in 2007 before being handed the reins of the first team this season, has an explanation for the giants' under-performance in the early years of the League Cup. "When the League Cup started (in 2007), the tournament coincided with national team competitions like World Cup qualifiers and so on," said the 37-year-old.

"This was before the LionsXII were formed (in 2012), so most of the national players were with the likes of Warriors, Home and Tampines.

"These clubs had to play League Cup games without their national players, and turned to Prime League players, for example." Balestier Khalsa goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, who was between the sticks when the Tigers lifted the League Cup in 2013, believes the tournament's magic is what spurs the less-fancied teams.

"It's a Cup thing," said the Balestier skipper, who also won the RHB Singapore Cup last year. "Maybe players like me, in the so-called smaller teams who have never won much silverware, feel the League Cup is a tournament they can win.

"The bigger teams may prioritise the S.League or Singapore Cup, but winning the League Cup was a big achievement and a proud moment for me."

RAMADAN NO EFFECT

Some have suggested that the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which has coincided with several editions of the League Cup, could also have had an effect on local teams.

But Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner disagrees.

"Last year, we beat Albirex Niigata, a team full of Japanese players who have their normal rhythm, 3-1 in the quarter-finals," he said. "At the end of the day, it's about how you manage the training sessions.

"You need to be very shrewd with how and when you rest your players."

The German won the very first edition of the League Cup in 2007, when he was in charge of a Woodlands Wellington side boasting the likes of Ahmad Latiff Khamarudin, Park Tae Won and Laakad Abdelhadi.

He applauded the S.League's decision to delay match kick-off times during Ramadan by half an hour to 8.30pm. "In the past, the players would have to rush through the breaking of their fast, then warm up from about 7.15pm to 7.45pm," said Steinebrunner.

"Now, there's a little bit more time for them to eat properly. "It's a good move by the FAS (Football Association of Singapore), and personally, I think a great step forward. The players are happier too."

Last year, we beat Albirex Niigata, a team full of Japanese players who have their normal rhythm, 3-1 in the quarter-finals... it's about how you manage the training sessions. - Geylang International coach Jorg Steinebrunner, on his team not being affected by the Muslim fasting month

TNP LEAGUE CUP

PAST WINNERS 2007 Woodlands Wellington 2008 Gombak United 2009 Brunei DPMM 2010 Etoile FC 2011 Albirex Niigata 2012 Brunei DPMM 2013 Balestier Khalsa 2014 Brunei DPMM

GROUP A Brunei DPMM Hougang United Geylang Int'l Singapore Recreational Club GROUP B Balestier Khalsa Warriors FC Tampines Rovers GROUP C Albirex Niigata Home United Sporting Westlake

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 22, 2015.
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