Hougang head coach K Balagumaran told FourFourTwo that he is keen to pit his wits against his old mentor and Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy when the new S.League season kicks off.
“Sundram is for me, a very shrewd tactician,” Balagumaran said. “I have learnt a lot from him over the past few years.
“And this year he has with him all the players he wanted, players who have played with him when he won the Malaysia Super League with the LionsXII, so it’s a very formidable Tampines side.
“On paper, they have the upper hand but I am excited to see if my team will be able to take some points off them.”
As for the brand of football Hougang will play under him this season, compared to Sundram who is known to favour a conservative approach with an emphasis on not conceding goals, Balagumaran believes in an adventurous passing game.
He insists he will give his attacking players the freedom to express themselves in the final third of the field.
“We want to entertain the fans as well, so I have told my players that while we have to remain strong and focused in defence, when we are in the attacking third of the field, they have the license to be creative.”
Balagumaran believes that it will be a very open league this season, with clubs like Geylang International and Home United also boasting strengthened squads, and is targeting a top-five finish for his troops.
“Our target this season is to finish in the top five. It’s a target set by the management,” he revealed.
“They have loosened the purse strings to improve the team, so it’s right that they expect results. But it’s a completely new team, the players will take some time to gel, so we can’t say top three, that will be putting too much pressure on the players.
“So I think top five is a fair target, coming from last season when the team was last in the league.”
Balagumaran also shed some light on his selection process.
“The players I have signed here, I signed based on their character,” he said. “I want players who are disciplined, willing to work and give their all. I have worked with many of them before, I know them, they are fighters and eager to improve.
“So Kaplan was my first signing because he is a role model. I was impressed with him when he was playing for Negri Sembilan, where I was the assistant coach.
We want to entertain the fans so the players have the license to be creative.
“He is a model professional. He gives his best at training, takes care of himself well, is consistent and scores goals. All the other players love him.
“For me, he is more like a local player. He mixes around and fits in very well in the dressing room.
“The dressing room is very important. If you have a harmonious dressing room, you stand a good chance of doing well on the field.”
On his team’s star catch, 2015 player of the year Fumiya Kogure, Balagumaran said: “Fumiya is a player who impresses me tremendously.
“I have always admired the Albirex passing game. They are patient, they pass the ball around, they build up from the back, and that is the style of football I want my team to play.
“Fumiya was the creative centre of the Albirex team last year and he can be the centre of our team this year.
“So I spoke to him personally (and) my manager spoke to him as well.
“He had other offers, bigger clubs wanted to sign him, but when he found out that Kaplan was going to be with us as well, he decided to sign for us.”
For the last foreigner’s slot which has not been filled, Balagumaran says he is hoping to sign an experienced central defender who can guide players like Delwinder Singh and Wahyudi Wahid.
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Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo