Lion City Sailors mean business this season.
Their capture of Diego Lopes and Hariss Harun had already attested to that fact, but the latest announcement from Bishan Stadium -- that of the arrival of Kim Do-hoon as their new manager -- is arguably the biggest proof yet of the club's ambitions.
The 50-year-old Kim has been away from the sport since guiding Ulsan Hyundai to the AFC Champions League title in December 2020 and will replace Aurelio Vidmar, who left the Singapore Premier League outfit in April after less than a year in charge..
The South Korean manager is expected to link up with his new players in June. He will try to get the squad ready for the group stage of the 2021 AFC Cup, which they will host later that month, and also the next phase of SPL where he will do battle with the likes of Albirex Niigata (S) and Tampines Rovers for the title and qualification for next season's ACL.
What will Kim bring to the Singapore Premier League side?
Kim has vast experience as both a player and a coach at the highest level of Asian football. He pulled on the Korea Republic shirt on more than 70 occasions, including at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and was the top scorer for finalists Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in the 2004 ACL.
His coaching journey began with the South Korea U-20s in 2014 before switching to Incheon United the following year. The pinnacle of his coaching career so far came with Ulsan as he helped them defeat Persepolis 2-1 in the ACL final last December at the end of a four-year stint, which also saw him win the Korean FA Cup.
During Kim's tenure, the Tigers evolved into playing an exciting brand of football that ultimately crowned them the continental champions at the end of a nine-match winning run in Asia. Ulsan were also known for their defense in those years and the South Korean legend will be hoping to replicate more of the same in Singapore.
The ACL winner has also worked with some of the best talents in Asia. Lee Chung-yong, Park Joo-ho, Lee Keun-ho and Shin Jin-ho are just several of the stalwarts Kim has managed in recent seasons.
Combined, these are reasons enough for the Sailors' players, as well as their supporters, to be very excited about their new man in charge.
What will the Sailors achieve in Kim's first season?
With the arrival of one of the best coaches in Asia, the Sailors now have all the ingredients to make 2021 their breakout season in Asian football. To do that, they will have to first top Albirex, Tampines and Hougang United to claim the SPL title, along with the bonus prize of qualification for the 2022 AFC Champions League.
If Kim indeed manages to lift the first league title of his coaching career in September, it will signal a new dawn in Singaporean football with the dominance of foreign outfits Albirex and DPMM FC finally broken after six seasons.The Sailors find themselves one point behind Albirex collecting 23 points from 10 matches.
The chance to represent Singapore at next season's ACL will also be a step in the right direction for the club. As 2020 SPL runners-up, Tampines are set to become the first club from the city-state to reach the group stages of ACL since 2010 and the Sailors will be aching to compete among the big boys of Asian football sooner rather than later.
Kim's side will compete in AFC Cup this season. The Sailors are pooled with Kedah Darul Aman (Malaysia), Saigon FC (Vietnam) and Persipura Jayapura (Indonesia) in the group stages starting June 29 and will be expected to go a long way in the competition this term -- especially with the talent they have assembled at the club.
Lion City Sailors draw comparisons with Malaysia's JDT
The Sailors, formed from the now-defunct Home United, have not been shy to flex their financial muscle on and off the field under local billionaire Forrest Li. The club broke the SPL transfer record earlier this year to sign Brazilian midfielder Lopes from Portuguese top division side Rio Ave for $2.2 million.
They have also started construction of a $10 million training facility for the club and its academy, while also bringing in Singapore national team captain Hariss from Johor Darul Ta'zim. So, are Lion City Sailors turning into the JDT of Singapore and about to dominate the domestic scene like their Malaysian counterparts?
Their early steps in the SPL suggest they are some way off from truly dominating their peers and they do have a tough job on their hands to dethrone Japanese satellite outfit Albirex.
Still, the minimum expectation for Kim this season would be ACL qualification -- which could still be achieved without winning the title as Albirex are ineligible to represent Singapore in AFC competition.
If he manages that, more investment could follow to expedite their rise to the top.