FFT’s 2017 S.League Season Preview: Tampines Rovers

Will the Stags suffer this season after releasing a host of players or can they still remain competitive? FourFourTwo previews the Pennant-less Tampines... 

Team Summary:

Tampines Rovers ended the 2016 league season with a 5-1 win over champions Albirex Niigata (S) but it was too little too late for one of Singapore’s most successful clubs as they finished a single point off the top.

The Stags will have high expectations heading into the new season once again, but they will have to do without some of their key players from last year.

High-profile English winger Jermaine Pennant leads a list of players exiting the club, joined by fellow foreign imports Billy Mehmet and Jordan Webb. Significant departures are Singapore internationals Hafiz Sujad, Afiq Yunos and Izzdin Shafiq although the club still maintains a core of current and former national team players.

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Players like Hafiz have left the club. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

There has been movement at the top too, with newly appointed coach Jürgen Raab drafted in to replace Akbar Nawas, who left the club after they were dumped out of the AFC Champions League preliminary stage by Philippines’ Global FC.

Raab will have to juggle continental fixtures in the AFC Cup along with a title challenge on the domestic front but the former Borussia Mönchengladbach assistant manager is no stranger to the S.League, having been in charge of the Young Lions since 2015.

Key signings:

Khairul Amri (Young Lions), Madhu Mohana (Warriors FC), Daniel Bennett (Geylang International), Ivan Dzoni (FK Dukla Banská Bystrica, Slovakia), Ryutaro Megumi (Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan), Son Yong-chan (Ceres, Philippinrs)

Key departures:

Jermaine Pennant (Bury), Billy Mehmet (Brunei DPMM), Jordan Webb (Warriors FC), Afiq Yunos (Home United), Izzdin Shafiq (Home United), Hafiz Sujad (BBCU)

Coach Summary: Jurgen Raab

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Raab took over the team just weeks before the season started. Photo: Tampines

Jürgen Raab has an extensive football CV, with his first taste of Singapore football coming after he signed on as national team fitness coach under Bernd Stange. The German coach had previous coaching stints in Germany and Turkey, most notably at Bundesliga sides Nürnberg and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Raab will be tasked with molding together a team chock full of veteran local players but light on foreign talent as Tampines eye their first domestic title since 2013. While the coach has spoken of having a long term project at the club, he will no doubt be aware that he has to hit the ground running given the high turnover rate among coaches at the club.

Player to watch: Ivan Dzoni

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Dzoni is hoping to kickstart his career in Singapore. Photo: Weixiang Lim/FFT

The Stags look extremely solid at the back with national stopper Izwan Mahbud between the posts and the national team’s impressive Suzuki Cup defensive pairing of Daniel Bennett and Madhu Mohana in front of him.

But up front, all eyes will be on Ivan Dzoni this season, with the former Croatia U17 international looking to revive his career in Singapore.

Once a promising youth prospect who had trials in England before signing professional terms with hometown club Hajduk Split, the 22-year-old is rebuilding his career after a nasty leg break in 2014 impeded his progress.

The forward possesses good technical ability and is not afraid to dribble with the ball at his feet. Opposition defenders will do well to mark him closely as he possesses a powerful shot.

Tampines will be hoping he can link up well with veteran striker Khairul Amri, with Dzoni likely to slot in just behind the Singapore international.

Expectations: Title challengers

Despite a much smaller budget and untested foreign imports, Tampines Rovers will once again be expected to challenge for the S.League title. Nothing less will suffice.

Main Photo: Global FC