Tokic hoping to give Balestier some much-needed tonic
Just a few short weeks ago, Niko Tokic was still plying his trade in Croatia with second division side Hrvatski Dragovoljac.
It had never occurred to him that on June 7, he would be celebrating his birthday in Singapore. Or that he would still be in training, as his former teammates enjoy the summer break in Europe.
Being in Singapore for the first time in his life – he arrived on May 30 – Tokic admitted he was still settling in.
“Three weeks ago, I was offered the possibility of playing in Singapore,” Tokic told FourFourTwo in an interview at Balestier’s office at Toa Payoh Stadium.
“I have never been here before but I heard plenty of nice things about it and did my own research and I told my agent, why not?
However, suggest to the Croatian that he may struggle in the S.League initially, as he is still in the acclimatisation period, and he will refute you.
For starters, Tokic is still in tip-top condition. The 27-year-old’s last game in Croatia was on May 21, when his side beat Dugopolje 1-0.
As a testimony to his fitness, the lean and well-built striker completed the league’s mandatory 2.4km test run in eight minutes and 56 seconds.
His playing experiences in Hong Kong and Lithuania also will be beneficial, he believes, especially with regards to the climate and culture.
The former Sun Pegasus forward shared: “Everything feels familiar here. I saw how Balestier trained under Marko and it feels similar to what we do in Croatia.
“I heard there is the artificial pitch here but in Hong Kong and Lithuania I trained on artificial pitches too.”
This means good news for the Tigers, who are in dire straits. They have started the season in disappointing fashion and only managed one paltry win from12 attempts.
The Toa Payoh-based team needs all the help it can get to push for a top-half finish and Tokic, being one of the three foreign imports allowed per team, is expected to contribute heavily to their cause.
And Tokic exuded confidence that he could improve Balestier’s fortunes. After all, his best footballing results were achieved away from home.
In 2015, he helped Pegasus to a third-place finish in the Hong Kong league, although the striker says his best season to date came when he was in Lithuania in 2014.
Then, Tokic finished as the Lithuania first division’s top-scorer after plundering in 19 goals in 35 matches for Siauliai.
“I was the top scorer that season and it was a surprise because my club was a middle-table side,” Tokic added.
“Maybe I was lucky but every match I played in, I did well and I was in top form. My teammates did a lot for me for me too and I only had to apply the finishing touch.
“I only won the Golden Boot award on the last day though, as I was competing with Linas Pilibaitis, who had 17 goals and played for the champions Zalgiris Vilnius. I scored two goals in my last match and he didn’t.”
If fans are expecting it to start raining goals though, don’t.
“I play for a team, I am not a solo player,” the former Dinamo Zagreb youth trainee said. “You need me to run, I will run. I can play with the ball at my feet or hold the ball up, because I am a strong player.
“I don’t want to set any goal targets, I just want to do my best. If I can score 10, I will.”
Ten days after his birthday, Tokic will also get to go up against a certain Jermaine Pennant as Balestier take on Tampines Rovers on June 17.
But the Croatian will not be overawed by the former Liverpool winger, as he aims to help the Tigers pull off a shock victory.
“I hope, with my experience, I can help Balestier do better. I will do my best for them,” Tokic asserted.
“Pennant is a big name and he played in a lot of good clubs, but he’s a player like all of us.”