A potentially historic treble turned into just a sole League Cup triumph last year. Can Brunei's sole professional club go at least one better this year under Steve Kean?
What happened in 2014?
Home ground: Stadium Hassanal Bolkiah National, Seri Begawan
Nickname: The Wasps
Last Season: Runners-up
League Cup: Champions
Singapore Cup: 3rd place
Many local clubs would be satisfied with the achievements Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota (DPMM) attained last season. First in the League Cup, runners-up in the league and third in the Singapore Cup, what more could you ask for?
Yet for the DPMM set-up, it was a case of what could have been. The failure to seal the league title when they were comfortably ahead and dominant was down to them alone as they dropped points during the business end of the campaign, allowing Warriors FC to sneak in from behind to claim the championship on the final day of the season.
While they were dominant in their third League Cup triumph, a promising start in the Singapore Cup saw them reach the semi-finals for the first time in nine appearances. They came unstuck in the last four where they lost to Home United on aggregate, but claimed their best finish after defeating Tampines Rovers in the playoff.
The departures of three key import players – 2014 league top scorer Rodrigo Tosi, Roberto Alviz and Roy O’Donovan – were lamented, but Kean had wasted little time securing their replacements in Brian McLean, Craig Fagan and Rafael Ramazotti.
Veteran defender Shahrulrizal Rahman found himself displaced after a poor season, with four new young local faces hoping to follow the footsteps of last year’s breakthrough local star Azwan Ali Rahman in the starting eleven.
Having given the Bruneian public the chance to dream, expectations are high on Kean and DPMM to at least match the results of the previous campaign. The bar is raised this year – a good campaign iswill be one where the team at least maintains the standards they set in 2014.
The Gaffer – Steve Kean
The former Blackburn Rovers manager was instrumental in pushing Brunei football to near-giddying heights when he led the club in their valiant attempt for an unprecedented Singapore club treble last year.
Upon his arrival in the Sultanate, he wasted no time transforming the club training regime with added emphasis on fitness and tactical knowledge, making DPMM one of the most feared sides in the league.
He will also be continuing his work of blooding promising local talent into the forefront of first team action to provide more competition to the club stalwarts, even as he casts one eye on silverware again this year.
Fitness played a key role in DPMM reaching such dizzying heights last year and will contribute immensely in their pursuit for trophies this season once again. With the locals more adapted to the fitness regime implemented by Kean, expect them to outpace and outmuscle opponents.
A heightened tactical understanding among the locals over the past year has ensured the gap between them and the imports has been narrowed, allowing Kean and the players to work on a more cohesive tactical plan to outwit opponents.
Having wilted from leading positions in 2012 and 2014, questions persist on the team’s ability to retain their focus and steel, especially during the business end of the season. It remains to be seen whether the squad could take the lessons from last season and regroup.
With three new foreigners joining the squad weeks before the season kickoff, whether they can integrate as effectively as their predecessors is a challenge. Usually a hit-and-miss affair, their ability to settle could swing the season either way.
Players to Watch
- Azwan Ali Rahman
The standout Bruneian last season, the 22-year-old made his breakthrough as he made the left midfield spot his own. His nifty footwork and off the ball running often unsettled opponents as his displays saw him earn a Young Player of the Year nomination.
Having gained much competitive experience in the league, he will be counted upon to play a bigger role in attack alongside his foreign colleagues in the final third. His ability to unlock defences could be the difference between victory and defeat.
- Craig Fagan
Adept on the right wing and further up as a centre forward, the 32-year-old attacker boasts plenty of experience plying his trade across all the divisions in the English professional club football ladder.
His versatility in attack is an asset as he is capable of floating between the wings and inside the box. The pace and guile he brings into the game will unsettle many a defence in the S.League when he turns it on.
- Joe Gamble
Wherever he was deployed last year, the 33-year-old Irishman performed without fuss in defence or midfield. The constant shuffling around the pitch impacted his individual game though as he placed team above self, even at the cost of the occasional mistake.
The arrival of defender Brian McLean will allow him to settle more in his preferred role at centre midfield. The get-to man between defence and attack, 2015 promises to bring out the best in him in his strongest position on the pitch.
Gary's 2015 S.League Prediction: 3rd
I personally would love to see Kean and his team gain more silverware this season, but I am afraid the league title will remain elusive as a talent-laden Tampines Rovers and a competitive Albirex Niigata (Singapore) – a side they had no problem defeating last season though – will see them rise above DPMM in the final reckoning.