FFT’s 2017 S.League Preview: Albirex Niigata (S)
As it has been at the start of every season since Albirex Niigata (S) joined the S.League, they will begin the campaign with a revamped squad.
Albirex have always signed the bulk of their players from the various universities in Japan and players who have shone in that particular season would usually attract attention and move clubs.
Those who failed to make the cut would also be sent packing while the ones that stay are usually those who had the potential to excel or could still contribute to the team.
This proved no different this season, with 18 players recruited from the various institutions in Japan and only seven retained from the previous season.
Majority of the players will be lacking in experience and will be in for a baptism of fire in their first full season as professionals.
But the White Swans’ management have always ensured these players cultivated the right mentality and trainings to be competitive in the S.League.
Shoichiro Sakamoto (Zweigen Kanazawa), Tsubasa Sano (Juntendo University)
Atsushi Kawata (Albirex Niigata), Kento Fujihara (Nagaworld), Atsushi Shirota (Hougang United), Tatsuro Inui (Thai Honda)
This will be coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s first season in the S.League and he will have much to live up to, especially after Albirex swept all the trophies available in 2016.
The 48-year-old had several coaching stints back in Japan and was a first-team coach with J1 League side Ventforet Kofu before joining the White Swans.
Yoshinaga is aware it will be hard to replicate what his predecessor Naoki Naruo achieved but he expressed his confidence in his side’s ability to be competitive and is aiming to win all four trophies up for grabs.
Player to watch: Shuto Inaba
The Albirex captain was an unsung hero in the previous year, with his dynamic displays often ensuring opponents do not enjoy much space and time in midfield.
Many had expected him to depart for a bigger club but Inaba chose to stay with the White Swans instead.
With such a young team around him, Inaba will be looking to lead by example once again and ensure his young teammates develop into proud professional footballers.
Expectations: To be finish among the top three
The White Swans have always been competitive and there is no doubt they will be among the better teams in the league once again this season.
But for them to sweep all four trophies again will be asking a little too much of the young team, especially with the loss of S.League Player of the Year 2016 Atsushi Kawata.
Where will the goals come from now that the striker has moved on to parent team Albirex back in Japan will probably determine how well Albirex do this year. Another good Cup run is also expected.
Photos: Albirex Niigata (S)