Kraljevic believes Balestier can thrive again without big stars

Having retained three foreigners in the form of Emir Lotinac, Robert Pericic (pictured above) and Miroslav Kristic, Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic believes his side can enjoy another successful S.League season ahead.

While clubs like Tampines Rovers and Geylang International have been making waves in the off-season with the announcement of impressive new signings, Balestier have been making far less noise on their front.

That’s life – if you get a better deal, you go to another club

- Kraljevic

That does not equate to an inactive transfer window for the Tigers though, with Kraljevic making a number of handy signings to cope with the loss of key players like Igor Cerina, Poh Yifeng and Ignatius Ang.

Young centre-back Sheikh Abdul Hadi, midfield hard man Shah Hirul, former LionsXII forward Syafiq Zainal, the experienced Jamil Ali and ex-Home United winger Fazli Ayob have all joined the Toa Payoh-based club, while the foreign trio of Lotinac, Pericic and Kristic will stay for another season.

Speaking ahead of his side’s training session at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Tuesday evening, Kraljevic said he is pleased with the make-up of his squad despite not securing any big-name foreign or local signings.

“We’ve lost some players, but that’s soccer life – if you get a better deal, you go to another club,” said the 50-year-old.

“We’ve signed what we needed; we have Shah Hirul ... we have Jamil Ali who can play in the same position as ‘Iggy’ (Ang) and has more experience.

“If you follow Hadi, you will know he played around 70 to 80 S.League games – that’s quite a lot of experience for a 23-year-old and he can play with Emir at the back.

“Emir is on a two-year contract, so we kept him. I’m also looking forward to the return of the two strikers (Pericic and Kristic) who have done a great job last year and they should be even better this season."

Kraljevic is optimistic his new-look squad is good enough to replicate the achievements of last season, when they emerged as surprise title challengers and finished as League Cup finalists, despite seemingly lacking depth.

“I have about 16 players and I think that is OK for us,” explained the German-born Croatian. “We have some Prime League players coming through, making it a good mix of young and old players.

“I really like this, instead of having two big squads where there will be players who are not happy about sitting on the bench.

The Tigers feel camaraderie can make up for any perceived lack of star power

“Actually it’s been the same situation for the last few years and we’ve done a great job by winning the Cups (League Cup in 2013 and Singapore Cup in 2014).

“We have one of the best goalkeepers in the league now in Zaiful (Nizam) and a decent back four. If the two strikers can continue to score 30 goals, we should be there (amongst the frontrunnners).”

Meanwhile Balestier will participate in the AFC Cup for a second successive year after finishing as the second-highest ranked local team last season.

The Tigers are placed in Group F alongside Hong Kong powerhouses Kitchee SC, Filipino side Kaya and Maldivian champions New Radiant SC.

Despite having to cope with the gruelling schedule that comes with continental commitments, Kraljevic is adamant that playing on the regional stage will help improve his players.

“We’re not sure about the quality of our opponents apart from Kitchee, so we’ll try our best,” he said.

“Personally I felt that playing in the AFC Cup helped us last year, because the players learned a lot from playing good teams and got better.

“That helped us back in the league where we were able to do well against strong teams like Brunei (DPMM) and Tampines.” 

Photos courtesy of Balestier Khalsa Football Club