13 February 2016

New season starts next week

Saturday, February 6, 2016

THE 2016 Singapore League (S-League) season is just a week away, and the main question in Brunei is whether DPMM FC will be able to defend their title.
It will definitely be a difficult task as the league has taken an upturn with Tampines Rovers FC landing a big name signing with former Liverpool and Arsenal midfielder Jermaine Pennant as well as other teams bolstering their squad by snapping up players from the disbanded LionsXII team.
The season opener will see reigning champions DPMM FC take on Singapore Cup holders Albirex Niigata (S) FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore in next Saturday’s Charity Shield.
The DPMM FC camp has been quiet during the off-season but they have retained most of their players from last year as it is known they have inked two-year contracts with the country’s only professional club.
Regardless, the side are probably the team hit the hardest by the S-League import quota being reduced from five to three.
The foreign players brought in last season complemented the local players well, which resulted in them winning their maiden title.
But DPMM FC have now replaced two slots filled by experienced imports – Bosnian defender Boris Raspudic and Irish midfielder Joe Gamble – by promoting players from the Under-19 team.
Setting up a youth team was one of Kean’s main priorities when he first signed for the club in Nov 2013.
From over 120 hopefuls from around the country who turned up for trials in January 2015, around 20 were selected for the team.
The side train and plays in a similar system to the first-team, making a progression into the senior ranks easier - as is the fact Kean trains the Under-19s as well.
However, it remains to be seen how they can cope with the rigours of professional football.
With that in mind, it was natural that DPMM FC would re-sign S-League topscorer Rafael Ramazotti.
However, the Brazilian’s threat upfront also depends on the performance of Portuguese forward Paulo Sergio, who produced 17 assists last season.
No surprise, then, that both have been retained for the 2016 season.
There is plenty of firepower up front, but there may be problems with the team’s backline now that McLean’s central defensive partner Raspudic is gone.
McLean had developed a good understanding with Raspudic, and it will be interesting to see who will replace the centre-back as those are some big shoes to fill.
On the plus side, having stuck with the same core players means that DPMM FC should be well-versed with the training regime under coach Steve Kean.
Azwan Ali Rahman, who won the S-League’s Young Player of the Year award last season, knows just how hard it will be to defend their title this season.
“There is an increase in the level of competition, but anything can happen so we just have to focus on our own targets - which is to fight to win all the competitions,” said the midfielder during DPMM FC’s annual sponsor signing ceremony last Friday.
“The players will be part of the rotation with the reduction of imports, which means everyone fights for their place, and that will be a great motivation for us.”
Most of the talk so far has been about Tampines as they look to be the favourites to win the title.
The runners-up only kept five of their players from last season and besides getting Pennant, they signed eight players from the LionsXII - which include Singapore No 1 goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
In addition, the Stags have picked up Warriors FC topscorer Fazrul Nawaz as well as Jordan Webb from the Young Lions.
On paper, they seem the most likely to win - but anything can happen in football.

The Brunei Times

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