Albirex Niigata: The Japanese club aiming to go local

They have emerged as S.League powerhouses in recent years and chairman Daisuke Korenaga is looking to build on that success by ‘localising’ the club. The 40-year old explains to Deepanraj Ganesan his plans...

Albirex Niigata (S) chairman Daisuke Korenaga looked flustered, clearly confused by what was suggested.

“Foreign club. Why are we foreign club?” questioned Korenaga, catching this reporter by surprise.

After all, it is clear for all to see that Albirex Niigata (S) is a satellite team of Albirex Niigata, who play in the top tier of Japan.

Furthermore, the White Swans’ players all do come from Japan, with a bulk of them from Japanese universities.

So the question is asked back: “So you don’t think you are a foreign club? Despite the fact that you have no local players?”

From next season, we will have local players in Albirex Niigata and you will see that.”

- Daisuke Korenaga

Korenaga fired back defiantly: “Okay. But that will change. We want to be local.”

“I disagree that we are a foreign football club.

“Yes, we consist of only Japanese players but we do not behave like a foreign club, in fact I would say we have done many activities with the local community here.

“But okay, from next season, we will have local players in Albirex Niigata and you will see that.”

Daisuke Korenaga has plans for the club to go local. Photo: Albirex

Korenaga explained further that signing local players for his side had always been the plan and with a new Football Association of Singapore (S) council in place, the chairman believed the time is right for Albirex to go local.

The plan will be to sign two to three young local footballers with the aim of developing these players to become stars for the Singapore national team.

“We will go forward from now on and we will commit to Singapore Football more directly.”

And according to Korenaga, while the plan has yet to be confirmed, his club are in talks with FAS to make his wish a reality.

He said: “We joined the S.League from 2004 and our mission was to create a buzz for the league and to become a benchmark for improvement.

“Recently we are very competitive and won many titles and thus our objectives since inception are nearly met.

“We will go forward from now on and we will commit to Singapore Football more directly.”

Many have called for Albirex to leave the S.League

In recent times, more observers of the local game have come out to call for an all-local S.League, calling for the likes of Brunei DPMM and Albirex to be left out of a revamped league.

Team manager Koh Mui Tee believed that such a move will prove to be counterproductive, especially in the face of recent success. He points to off-the-pitch initiatives as to why his club should stay.

Unlike most of the other local clubs, we have been reaching out to the communities

“We have not been existing for the sake of existing alone,” said Mui Tee who has been at the club for the past seven years.

“If we don’t do well in the league, people will say we have not added quality to the competition and because of that we have to constantly work hard and ensure we are doing well.

“But most importantly, unlike most of the other local clubs, we have been reaching out to the communities and also have made game-day as interesting as we can.”

Albirex are the only club in the S.League to have received the People’s Association community spirit award due to their various grassroots initiatives. They also have an unique memorandum of understanding with the Yuhua Community Club, to whom they have pledged almost $80,000 in donation thus far.  

Pokemon night was a hit with the fans

In their 2-0 loss to Home United in June at the Jalan Besar Stadium, Albirex also showed the way off the pitch, organising a Pokemon-themed fringe event which was a hit with many supporters that turned up on the night.

Young Albirex cheerleaders are also a common sight at every Albirex match, adding to the electrifying hubbub before the games.

Those people who say we should not be in the S.League, maybe they only read about us in the papers or see the scores

Chairman Korenaga furthermore stressed that it was not the club’s culture to simply win on the pitch, although Albirex swept all the trophies up for grabs in the 2016 season.

Soon enough, this reporter is about to bid his farewell for the day but Korenaga stopped him in his tracks.

He declared: “We must ask ourselves why we are existing?”

“Those people who say we should not be in the S.League, maybe they only read about us in the papers or see the scores.

“I ask of them to come down and watch us and feel the atmosphere at our games. Come and watch us.”

“I say we exist for Singapore and for Singapore football.”

Photos: S.League (Unless stated otherwise)