S-league not all about Pennant

S-League side Tampines Rovers beat Johor Darul Takzim II 1-0 in front of a crowd of 1,500 at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The spotlight may be on Jermaine Pennant following his move to Tampines Rovers but the rest of the S-League's foreign legion will hope to have a say in the title race when the competition kicks off on Feb 13.

The league has reduced the foreign player quota for each team from five to three, and the nine clubs have moved quickly to lock down key players ahead of the season.

Defending champions Brunei DPMM have retained three important members of their title-winning squad, including last season's top scorer Rafael Ramazotti, who plundered 21 goals in 27 games.

Joining the Brazilian are defender Brian McLean and midfielder Paulo Sergio.

Balestier Khalsa, who finished fourth among the 10 teams last season, also retained Miroslav Kristic, the third-highest scorer with 16 goals.

The 25-year-old Croat, in his second season with the Tigers, said: "Pennant was a big surprise for the league... (but) we have a lot of good players (who can) also surprise in the championship.

"Last year, I felt good and I played a good season. I hope this year will be even better. The coach does a good job in training, and it will not be easy to play against Balestier."

Home United's former Denmark Under-21 international forward Ken Ilso, who scored 11 goals in the last campaign, is another one hoping for an outstanding sophomore year.

Ilso, who played in the German Bundesliga with Fortuna Duesseldorf, said he signed on for another year with the Bishan club because he was determined to win a title here.

"My main goal is to be at the top of the table, and (challenge) for all the Cups. The club have done well in retaining a lot of players from last season. We have a strong team and I'm looking forward to developing on that," said the Dane.

The 29-year-old is also looking forward to mentoring two of Singapore's most promising talents - Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi, the two oldest sons of Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad.

Both joined the Protectors in the off-season although Ikhsan, 16, is expected to feature mainly for the Prime League team.

Irfan, 18, is the youngest player in the Protectors' squad. The 1.88m-tall striker is known for his aerial ability, powerful physique and sound technique.

Said Ilso: "I hope to guide some of the younger players, it is also the club's strategy and I look forward to linking up with Irfan and Ikhsan."

In all, 19 foreign players have been signed for the upcoming campaign so far.

Veteran Jozef Kaplan, with four S-League seasons under his belt, is one of the most senior members of the foreign contingent.

The 29-year-old Slovak made a surprise switch from Geylang International to Hougang United in the off-season, but is keen to prove he made the right move.

He joins a team rejuvenated by the additions of reigning Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure, who joined from Japanese outfit Albirex Niigata; Young Lions midfielder Anumanthan Mohan Kumar and six former LionsXII players including Nazrul Ahmad Nazari.

"This season, we have a young team but they are really talented and hard-working. My goal is to help the club be in a good position in the table," said Kaplan, who has scored 90 goals in the S-League.


This article was first published on January 21, 2016.
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