S.League Club Preview: Tampines Rovers

Tampines fans have grown used to success over the last few years, nothing less than silverware will do as expectations are higher than ever.

What Happened Last Season?

After two successive S.League titles, the Stags aimed high for season 2013 with then-coach Nenad Bacina joking at a pre-season press conference that they were aiming to win all four competitions which they were involved in. Things did look good with useful local signings from LionsXII in Shaiful Esah, Shahdan Sulaiman, Firdaus Kasman and Khairul Amri, as well as the capture of marquee player Martin Wagner.

Winning the Charity Shield and an unbeaten run in their first nine league games set Nenad’s reign off on a good note, but a poor run in the AFC Cup where they failed to win any of their six group games meant the promising Croatian bit the bullet by mid-season. General manager Tay Peng Kee stepped in to fill the void and there were changes to a couple of their foreign players’ slot, but the Stags continued to find success on the pitch. Despite two early Cup exits, their League journey proceeded smoothly as they managed to retain their crown with four games left.

TAMPINES ROVERS

Home ground: Clementi Stadium, Singapore

Nickname: The Stags

Last Season: 1st (Champions)

League Cup: Quarter Finalists

Singapore Cup: First Round 

This Season

Retaining the title will be the main aim yet again, with the Stags having a chance to equal Warriors FC’s four straight successes from 2006 to 2009. Their Asian Champions League (ACL) dream may have faded away after the defeat to Hong Kong’s South China in the qualifiers earlier this month, but the pressure is on new coach Salim Moin to inspire them to a better run in the AFC Cup compared to the disastrous campaign of yesteryear.

Useful foreign signings have made been in the form of attackers Miljan Mrdakovic, Luis Closa and former Geylang International defender Norihiro Kawakami, while on the local players’ front, Noh Alam Shah and Shariff Samat returns for their third spell with the club along with former Warriors FC keeper Hyrulnizam Juma’at.

Strengths

Despite the continual changes to the coaching staff over the years, the team spirit and sense of unity remain strong as ever. As seen in the past two title-winning champions, the players go about doing their jobs with minimal fuss regardless of off-pitch happenings. Players like Ismadi Mukhtar, Imran Sahib and Jamil Ali are happy to stay out of the limelight and let their contributions go unnoticed. The squad will also be well-equipped to face the rigours of being in four competitions, with players like Aleksandar Duric and Fahrudin Mustafic now retired from international duties.

Weaknesses

After successive crowns in the last three years, expectations will be at an all-time high for the Stags. As seen in past seasons, being in the thick of the title race by mid-term is not enough if the side is struggling to make an impact in other competitions. Thus coach Salim has it all to do this season.

Meanwhile, Mrdakovic and Closa have to live up to their pre-season hype after coming in with massive expectations; if not, the responsibility will fall on the shoulders of 44-year-old Duric and a yet-to-be match-fit Alam Shah.

Did You Know?

The Stags were not always that successful a football side. In the first eight seasons of the S.League, they did not finish above fourth place. The arrival of Vorawan Chitanavich sparked a new era as the astute Thai guided them to a S.League and Singapore Cup double in 2004. Since then, they have picked up another four league titles and also finished within the top two in the last five seasons.

The Boss – Salim Moin

After a spectacular season with Woodlands Wellington where he guided them to fifth position, Stags chairman Teo Hock Seng swooped in for the signature of the 52-year-old. This will be Salim’s biggest challenge of his coaching career thus far, having been in charge of lower-rung teams like Balestier Khalsa and Woodlands in the past. The jury is still out on this former Singapore international, having finished third-from-bottom with the Tigers in 2011 and wooden spoonists with the Rams in 2012. He will have to prove his achievements last season are no fluke.

Players To Watch

Miljan Mrdakovic

The 31-year-old comes in with wealth of experience of playing in some of Europe’s top leagues; in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv and in Austria with Salzburg and Gent, to name a few teams. Having also featured in the ACL with China’s Shandong Luneng as well as being a regular at Serbian national age-group levels, Miljan is absolutely confident on his ability to produce the goods. Hinting that he has no problems hitting 20 goals for the Stags at a pre-season press conference, all eyes will be on this player to see if he can live up to the ‘marquee player’ billing.

Luis Closa

Recruited from Paraguayan side San Lorenzo, this 29-year-old attacking midfielder will hope to do better than a certain South American playmaker last season. He showed glimpses of his ability to play the killer pass in the Stags’ extra-time defeat to South China in the ACL qualifiers, and Tampines fans will hope to see more of the same when the season kicks off.

Noh Alam Shah

This former Singapore international is back after years of plying his trade in Indonesia. Now at 33 years of age, he has visibly lost a yard or two and it will be intriguing to see if he still can handle the rigours of week-in, week-out football. Whether it is the free-scoring Alam Shah which led the Stags to successive titles in 2004 and 2005 or the unfit one which fired blanks in his short second stint in late 2012, one thing is for sure – his combative style on the pitch will ensure no small amount of fireworks.

Kenneth's 2014 S.League Prediction: 2nd