Stags set for charge

Stags set for charge

They aim to become a force again in S'pore football with winger Pennant in their ranks

Having released the bulk of their squad at the end of last season, Tampines Rovers have rebuilt and proudly showed off their new team yesterday, powered by nine former LionsXII players and topped off by the S-League's biggest transfer coup.

All in a bid to end a three-year trophy drought and reclaim bragging rights in Singapore football. The Stags, whose last title was the S-League crown in 2013, also have an eye on the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competitions.

Shouldering much of that burden will be star man Jermaine Pennant, the former Arsenal and Liverpool winger, who put pen to paper yesterday at a signing ceremony. He was presented with the No. 9 jersey by former Stags chairman Teo Hock Seng, who helmed the club from 2000 to 2015.

The 33-year-old Englishman is the league's highest earner ever, inking a one-year deal worth a reported $40,000 a month excluding add-ons.

Tampines vice-chairman Leon Yee revealed that the Stags had sponsorship "close to $1 million, in some way or form" for this season. The boost came from car manufacturer Hyundai, law firm Duane Morris & Selvam LLP, sports marketing agency Red Card Sports, performance-car dealer Supercars Singapore and sportswear retailer Decathlon.

Asked if he can meet the heightened expectations, Pennant said: "I've got no choice. But I'm sure I will. I've got ability, I'm a proven professional, so I've got to bring that here and hopefully we can move off from there."

Last season, Tampines finished second, four points behind champions Brunei DPMM. They also reached the Singapore Cup quarter-finals and were eliminated in the group stages of the League Cup.

With the firepower at his disposal, Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra wants to gun for an unprecedented quadruple haul of trophies in the S-League, Singapore Cup, League Cup and an AFC title.

The lawyer told The Straits Times: "Clearly, it would be remiss of me not to state for the record that the club will want to win all the competitions it enters into. The manner in which we go about doing it should not betray some of the core philosophies of the club, namely to promote the national football agenda."

Joining Pennant in the quest for silverware are established names, including goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and midfielders Izzdin Shafiq and Shahdan Sulaiman - all Singapore internationals.

Likening the level here to the Football League One, the third tier of English football, the former England Under-21 international said: "The standard's good. I was very surprised. All the international players are very good technically.

"They're quick... hopefully (the season) can all go well for myself and Tampines and we win a lot of trophies."

He even likened Fazrul Nawaz to former England striker Alan Shearer. "Fazrul is a good striker, he looks like a good Alan Shearer fox-in-the-box type and I'm looking forward to playing alongside him," he said.

The Stags have never reached the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Their last outing in Asia's premier club competition, in 2014, ended at the hands of Hong Kong's South China in round one of the qualifiers.

But, new signing in tow, Tampines coach V. Sundramoorthy is optimistic ahead of the new season, which kicks off on Feb 13.

Sundram, who won the Malaysia Super League title with the LionsXII in 2013, said: "On paper this is one of the strongest squads I've ever handled. Obviously we want to win trophies but the brand of football is very important to me and the club.

"We want to win games in style."

Besides Pennant, South Korean defender Kwon Jun, a free agent, and former Courts Young Lions attacker Jordan Webb will make up the club's foreign legion. It is believed the Stags are in the market for another foreign striker.

Pennant, who mingled with fans during the live screening of the Liverpool v Manchester United match at Tampines West Community Club on Sunday, reiterated his desire to stay in Singapore.

"I'm here to stay as long as Tampines want me to stay. Obviously the contract's for a little bit of time but after that, if all goes well and they want me to stay, I'll stay on longer," said the player, whose wife, model Alice Goodwin, and two children will arrive in Singapore next week.

"I'm settling in very comfortably, the weather's not a problem now, I've acclimatised well and I couldn't wish for a better start."

To entice him to make Singapore his new home base, Tampines are trying to get Pennant involved in their youth academy as well as make a name for himself as a football pundit.

He was all smiles when he accepted a sponsored Hyundai Veloster hatchback from former Stags striker Noh Alam Shah, who is now working in the car rental business. Pennant's previous rides included luxury brands Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche and he currently has Audi and Mercedes-Benz family saloons back in England.

At yesterday's signing ceremony, Tampines also unveiled their squad for the upcoming season, as well as their new kit, manufactured by Kipsta. Ditching their traditional yellow jersey for a red top, the Tampines home jersey is available for $35 (name and number printed).

Tampines begin their AFC Champions League campaign next Wednesday at Indian I-League champions Mohun Bagan.

This article was first published on JAN 20, 2016.
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