SINGAPORE – After enduring a miserable 2020 season and going 14 matches without a win to finish with the wooden spoon, Tanjong Pagar United want to make this a year to remember for winning reasons.
The Jaguars have swooped in early in the transfer market and made several surprise signings. To add experience to the squad, they have recruited former national team players Khairul Amri, 35, and Ridhuan Muhammad, 36.
They have also added firepower in the form of Reo Nishiguchi, 23, whose five goals in 11 appearances helped Albirex Niigata to the Singapore Premier League title last season.
Australian midfielder Blake Ricciuto, 28, who scored nine goals for Brunei DPMM during their title triumph in 2019, has also joined.
To shore up their backline, the club have snapped up Emmeric Ong, 29, and Shahrin Saberin, 25.
Their early signings are a stark contrast to last year, when the squad was cobbled together at the 11th hour after the club’s participation in the league was confirmed only in late January, following a five-year sit out owing to financial woes.
Head coach Hasrin Jailani told The Straits Times that the new signings have already made their mark on the squad.
He said: “What was important for us, was to lift the negativity that was around us.
“Nobody wants to finish bottom of the league but we were faced with difficult circumstances and we had to deal with it.
“The new signings have already helped to eliminate the negativity. Now, there is a good feeling around the place.”
The return of former international Ridhuan is likely to take most by surprise, as he has been out of action for four years since leaving the Warriors in 2017.
The speedy winger was a fan favourite in Indonesia where he inspired Arema to the 2009-10 Indonesia Super League title along with current Jaguars team manager Noh Alam Shah.
Noting that Ridhuan deserved one “last dance”, Alam Shah said: “I went to see him in December and he was talking about how he had watched the Michael Jordan documentary (The Last Dance) and he felt that he still had it in him to give it one last go. I thought, if he has the desire, why don’t we give him an opportunity?
“Within a week of training with us, I could see the impact he can have on younger players and the winning mentality that he can add to the squad.
“He still has his speed and for us, what matters is the dedication he has shown. He and Amri have been top class additions for us.”
Ridhuan, who was working as a facilities manager, is itching to get back into the game.
He said: “I’ve missed it (football) so much and this is really a dream come true, to be able to say that I am going to be playing pro football again.
“I have always felt that I did not quite leave on my own terms… I never thought I would get the opportunity again.
“But now that I have signed with the club, I want to do all I can to have a great season with Tanjong Pagar and help the young players in the team with my experience.”
The Jaguars have set a goal for a mid-table finish in the eight-team SPL, which is expected to kick off late next month.
Hasrin said: “Last year, we weren’t able to give a good account of ourselves but this year we want to show what we are capable of.”
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