Richard Bok Kok Chuan might have once led Warriors FC (then known as Singapore Armed Forces FC) in the elite Asian Champions League, but the 2014 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy in Brunei Darussalam brings him back to the starting point.
Appointed to lead the Singapore Under-21 side in this tournament at the oil-rich sultanate, the 45-year-old is expecting a massive challenge as they attempt to break into the semi-finals for the first time in five attempts.
“It is going back to the start again, working with the lads for the first time,” he told FourFourTwo after a pre-tournament training session earlier this week prior to their departure to Brunei.
“We will try to the reach the semi-finals, and we will need to plan how to negotiate on getting to the next stage.”
Bok's Under-21s will have their work cut out in Group B as they will be up against defending champions and hosts Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Brunei will be depending on their four overage players from S.League leaders Duli Pengiran Muda Makhota FC, including League Cup final scorer Adi Said and Hendra Azam, to bolster an inexperienced side.
Malaysia will be entirely represented by another S.League side Harimau Muda B, while Vietnam and Indonesia are using this tournament as a final tune-up to the Asian Under-19 Championship finals to be held in Myanmar next month.
The 18-man squad was only finalised this week after the team were hit by several late withdrawals owing to school and national service commitments, including key players Jeffrey Lightfoot, Dukhilan Jeevamani and Fareez Farhan.
To compensate for the enforced absence of key players, Warriors goalkeeper Neezam Aziz has been called up to join LionsXII trio of Emmeric Ong, Ignatius Ang and Syafiq Zainal as the Cubs’ overage players.
Tournament regulations allow for registration of up to five players above the age of 21, but only a maximum of three can be fielded at any one point.
Bok has refused to dwell on the late changes he has had to make and insisted the players he is bringing to Brunei will accomplish their mission.
“I will work with what I have,” he said.
“Even though the boys, particularly those from other clubs (outside of the Prime League side Singapore Cubs), have a very short time to adapt to one another and learn how we are going to play, we are going to go out there and be competitive.
“We have very tough opponents in a very strong group, so I want the boys to compete and guage themselves as to where they stand compared to the rest of the region at this age-group level.”
The overage quartet have been through the rigours of professional football in the S.League in their brief careers so far and will be familiar with the different challenges their group opponents will pose.
Bok is counting on them to play a major role in assuring their less-experienced teammates and push for results in the tournament.
“These players had some experience at senior level so they can guide the youngsters, some of whom have been playing at this level for the first time,” he said.
The Singapore Under-21s will commence their campaign on National Day when they take on Vietnam in the opening group match, and subsequently take on Cambodia, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Only the top two from each group will progress into the semi-finals that will take place closer to the end of the month.
Singapore Under-21 Squad for 2014 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (Singapore Cubs unless stated otherwise)
Goalkeepers: Neezam Aziz* (Warriors FC), Zharfan Rohaizad (NFA Under-17)
Defenders: Illyas Lee, Shahrin Saberin, R. Aaravin, Emmeric Ong* (LionsXII), Marcus Wheeler (Tanjong Pagar United)
Midfielders: Faizal Roslan, Asshiddiq Wahid, Danial Farhan Tan, Zakir Samsudin, Ignatius Ang* (LionsXII)
Forwards: Yus Henzry Jalil, Syed Amirul Haziq, Hazim Faiz, Ahmad Khidir, Irfan Asyraf, Syafiq Zainal* (LionsXII)
Singapore Under-21 Group B fixtures
- 9 August, v Vietnam, 4pm
- 11 August, v Cambodia, 8.15pm
- 13 August, v Brunei, 8.15pm
- 16 August, v Malaysia, 8.15pm
- 18 August, v Indonesia, 4pm