Having retained the majority of last season’s squad, Home United coach Philippe Aw believes his side can give title favourites Tampines Rovers a ‘run for their money’.
It was a real rollercoaster year for Home in 2015 under then first-year coach Aw.
The new-look side took time to get into their groove, picking up just three wins in the first 12 games before going on a delightful 10-match unbeaten run midway through the season.
While they ended the year without silverware – finishing sixth in the league and losing the Singapore Cup final to Albirex Niigata (S), they won plenty of admirers with their persistence on blooding youngsters and playing an attractive brand of football.
Reflecting on the year that gone by, Aw believes those were factors that aided his side’s recruitment drive for the upcoming season.
“It was a good learning experience; wasn’t easy but I think this first season in charge made me a better coach,” he told FourFourTwo.
“It was evident that we set out to groom youth and I felt it was a success; players like R Aaravin, Shahrin (Saberin) and Sufianto (Salleh) all had decent run outs in the team.
“The other success story is that we managed to play a good brand of football which the fans enjoyed, players enjoyed and even players from other club enjoyed as well. That helped us when we wanted to make new signings because it was one of the factors why players want to come to us.”
Nizam and Irfan Fandi are pure strikers and will give us more options in attack; Zulfahmi and Faris are technically good and will provide support.
While chopping and changing has been the norm in Singapore football, Home took a different approach by retaining up to 12 players from last season’s squad – including the impressive Danish hitman Ken Ilso.
Aw thinks the stability in the squad will be able to breed success for his young Protectors.
“The word ‘build’ in building a successful team takes time,” explained the 39-year-old. “It took us half a season to click into gear last year, so I thought we should be retaining the core this year. If we chop and change every year, it takes a lot of time to settle in; I myself believe in continuity.
“To be able to hold on to Ken is a bonus because he had good offers. He knew what Home was trying to do in the bigger picture in terms of revolutionising Singapore football and bringing up youth, so he stayed.”
The Bishan-based club have also made some shrewd signings in the off-season, bringing in the LionsXII trio of Zulfahmi Arifin, Faris Ramli and Khairul Nizam, as well as the promising duo of two Fandis, Irfan and Ikhsan.
That should give their attack much more bite, with the team seemingly too reliant on Ilso to produce the goods upfront last season.
“After reviewing last season where Ilso missed eight games in total, we still created chances in those games but we did not have someone to finish them off,” reflected Aw. “That’s why we thought that we cannot repeat the same problem this year.
“Nizam and Irfan are pure strikers and will give us more options in attack; Zulfahmi and Faris are technically good and will provide support.”
“Irfan and Ikhsan are still young, but for me it has never been about the age or their names; it’s about what they do in training. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. If they can work hard and prove themselves, they can compete with the rest for starting places.”
Apart from those signings, Aw have also promoted the little-known likes of Luqman Ismail and Amir Zailani to the senior squad – a move which is in line with their policy to blood in youth talent.
“Here at Home, we have the emphasis of building the HYFA (Home United Youth Football Academy) and bringing them through from a young age,” he explained. “These boys have been here for many years and carry the values of the club.
“Well, no one really knows who is Shahrin and Aaravin until they played last season. So maybe that will be the same for Luqman, Amir and the other young boys.”
While Tampines Rovers have been widely regarded as the favourites for the S.League title, Aw is optimistic of what his youthful-looking squad can do.
“Of course if you compare Tampines and us, we’re different,” he said. “Tampines have all the established big names and national team players.
“We only have a few experienced boys, but it’s a young and dynamic team which can give them a run of their money. Also winning a cup will be good for the club and that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve.”
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