Balestier dream big with Goran

Croatian striker Goran Ljubojevic (second from left), posing with club chairman S. Thavaneson and coach Marko Kraljevic.

SINGAPORE - "Big" was the operative word for Balestier Khalsa on Tuesday, as they unveiled a powerfully built star striker, prompting the Great Easter-YEO's S-League club to dream of title glory.

"We will go for it," Tigers chairman S. Thavaneson declared, as his team will unleash marquee signing Goran Ljubojevic against the Courts Young Lions in their opening fixture at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Feb 23.

Signed on a one-year deal, the 30-year-old had played for Dinamo Zagreb and was a Croatia Under-21 international.

And the 1.9-metre tall striker - who is reputed to be an aerially-strong target man with an intelligent footballing brain - is giving Thavaneson and coach Marko Kraljevic the confidence that Balestier can mount a serious title assault.

"History proves that players from the Balkans have been the most successful foreigners in the S-League," said Thavaneson, who also hailed the contributions over the years of Jure Eres (Croatia), Fahrudin Mustafic (Serbia) and Aleksandar Duric (Bosnia).

"Marko and I have been talking and he believes that as a club, we must aim for the next level."

Balestier captain Paul Cunningham also predicted: "If we get the ball to Goran, he's going to score goals."

While Kraljevic is expecting his main poacher to get "at least 25 goals" this campaign, Ljubojevic said: "It's a big burden on my shoulders. But as a target man, I will depend a lot on my team-mates.

"If we play attacking football, I think I can do well. But if we don't, I'll be useless."

Last year, the Toa Payoh-based side finished fourth in the 12-team league under former coach Darren Stewart - their best performance since finishing third in the league's inaugural season in 1996. They also lifted a first major trophy in the StarHub League Cup.

But the desire to win the elusive league title under Kraljevic - promoted from Prime League coach following Stewart's move to Woodlands Wellington - meant that the squad had to be strengthened.

Ljubojevic has arrived on the marquee player scheme, under which his wages are not subject to the $10,000 salary cap and are subsidised by the league.

He is the second player to be on this initiative this season, the other being Tampines Rovers' Miljan Mrdakovic.

Tanjong Pagar's Moroccan forward Monsef Zerka and Home United's South Korean playmaker and reigning S-League Player of the Year Lee Kwan Woo are the other star signings retained from last year.

Apart from big-money transfers, Thavaneson is also banking on youth for a good season as he looks to hand first-team opportunities to youngsters like Hanafi Akbar, who shot to fame as part of the Republic's bronze-medal winning side at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games.

"I think he's one of the future stars of Singapore football," Thavaneson said of the forward, 19.

"If we see a young player with the quality and desire to do well, we want to fast-track him."

fabiusc@sph.com.sg


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