SINGAPORE — They were tipped to take Singapore football to the next level. But after a triumphant league season in 2021, the Lion City Sailors have alarmingly crashed back down to earth this year.
An ignominious opening-group exit in the Singapore Cup last week meant that Sailors will finish this year without a trophy, having lost their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title to Albirex Niigata (Singapore) last month.
That league title was lost in the final stretch of the season, after head coach Kim Do-hoon resigned and the club's academy director Luka Lalic took over. The Serbian presided over a four-match losing streak that ceded the SPL title to Albirex, and then watched his side fail to win a single match in the Singapore Cup.
For Singapore's first fully-privatised club, replete with big-money signings and top-notch training facilities, this must have been a huge slap in the face, especially after the heavy investment by its billionaire owner Forrest Li since its inception in 2020.
The Sailors should have been showing the way to outdo Albirex, a feeder club from Japan who have won five out of the last seven SPL titles.
But while they have assembled a star-studded line-up of foreign ex-internationals and a strong bunch of current Singapore national players, the team just have not been cohesive and consistent enough, often relying on short bursts of brilliance from their talents.
While there is every chance that the Sailors can reverse their slide, they need to do it fast.
A lengthy period of mediocrity would have deep ramifications for the league. If the Sailors couldn't outdo Albirex with all the riches, what of the chances of the other six local clubs - none of them close to having the Sailors' financial strength - to succeed in doing so?
In short, the Sailors cannot stay among the pack of local clubs. Like it or not, they are rated differently and must respond to this setback of a season.
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