FFT's S.League Preview: Albirex Niigata S
Two Singapore League Cups – check. One Singapore Cup – check. S.League title? Pending.
Albirex 2016 S.League Squad
- Eita Kasagawa
- Yosuke Nozawa
- Shunkun Tani
- Mikiya Yamada
- Kento Fujihara
- Atsushi Shirota
- Naofumi Tanaka
- Tomoki Menda
- Tadaaki Yazawa
- Ryo Kurihara
- Rui Kamada
- Teppei Harashima
- Shuto Inaba
- Masaya Jitozono
- Kento Nagasaki
- Tatsuro Inui
- Daichi Ishiyama
- Ryuki Matsuya
- Kenya Kodama
- Kouki Mukai
- Kazuki Mine
- Atsushi Kawata
- Hiroyoshi Kamata
- Shuma Miyata
Elusive is the appropriate word for Albirex Niigata’s (S) S.League title attempts, a crown that has never been won by the Japanese-based club in Singapore since its inception in 2004.
When FourFourTwo spoke to their chairman Daisuke Korenaga last month, the target for the upcoming season for returning coach Naoki Naruo and and his troops was to ambitiously target all four titles on offer.
“We want all four titles (league, both cups and the Charity Shield)," Korenaga declared boldly.
Last season was the most successful campaign for Albirex, winning the Singapore Cup and the League Cup. But since then the team suffered a blow due to a number of key departures.
They will have to do without experienced left-back Itsuki Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Rion Taki, Shun Inaba and Hikaru Mizuno.
But the knockout punch was dealt when the league’s player of the year Fumiya Kogure left for Hougang United – meaning Albirex will have to do without the five goals and 13 assists he provided last season.
However, Albirex are a team that changes every season and the White Swans are always around the top due to the Japanese talents that they are regularly able to unearth. They have also managed to retain some key players.
In goal, they have the ‘keeper who was between the sticks for all their games last season, Yosuke Nozawa.
In defence, they have the man who was instrumental in ensuring Albirex had the least amount of goals conceded last season – just 17 – Kento Fujihara.
In midfield, coach Naruo has tipped Atsushi Kawata to step up and wants him to provide more goals and assists than last season.
They have also acquired the services of Tatsuro Inui from Geylang International. He has 33 goals from 133 games in Singapore since his time with Albirex in 2010, SAFFC in 2012, Warriors in 2013 and Geylang last year.
In attack, Kazuki Mine will be the main man. The 1.9m striker from Kyoto Sanga in J.League 2 will be the focal point and will help give a different dimension with his physicality and aerial presence.
The biggest question will be whether the returning Naruo will be able to deliver this season for the White Swans. He left in 2010 to join Grulla Morioka after finishing seventh with Albirex.
Since then, he helped promote a team of semi-professional players from the Tohoku Soccer League to the inaugural season of professional J. League division 3 in 2014.
Jermaine Pennant at Tampines Rovers will be a big threat, defending champions Brunei DPMM should again be around the mark, former ally Kogure and Hougang might haunt them and all the disbanded Lions XII players might be a hassle to say the least.
Yet Albirex are keen to focus only on themselves and not be troubled by the others. Naruo and company are looking forward to an enthralling season ahead.
FFT'S S.LEAGUE PREDICTION: 5th
They play good football, but the old problem of consistency may haunt them once more.
KEEP CLICKING BELOW FOR OUR COMPREHENSIVE ALBIREX PREVIEW
COACH CORNER – Naoki Naruo
Having left Singapore and Albirex Niigata (S) to return to Japan in 2010, Naoki Naruo is back pulling the strings of the White Swans, and he has some unfinished business.
So how does Naruo view his side's chances? Click here to find out.
STAR MAN – Yosuke Nozawa
Yosuke Nozawa might be 36 years old, but he shows no signs of slowing down in the Albirex goal, playing a pivotal role in last year's success.
For more about one of Albirex's key men, click here.
VIEW FROM THE FANS
She started getting interested in football after watching Japan during the 2010 World Cup and soon took Albirex Niigata to her heart.
Now, she rarely misses a game of her beloved White Swans. Read all about her journey here.
YOUNG GUN – Hiroyoshi Kamata
All professional footballers crave playing time, but they they can't always get it, leading to some mighty dummy spits – Mario Balotelli and Diego Costa immediately spring to mind.
But there are of course exceptions to the rule and that's where Hiroyoshi Kamata comes in. A fiercely determined teenager, read about his journey so far right here.
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