Lion City Sailors star Maxime Lestienne not to be denied Singapore Premier League Player of the Year -- not for a second year running

Lion City Sailors star Maxime Lestienne was a deserving winner of the Singapore Premier League Player of the Year award on Thursday evening -- after a season which saw him rack up a staggering 25 goals and 21 assists in 24 games. Football Association of Singapore

Already hailed as one of the Singapore Premier League's best imports ever despite only being around since the start of 2022, Maxime Lestienne probably should have claimed last season's Player of the Year award.

So what happens when a record of 12 goals and 23 assists is not enough to take out the top prize?

Lestienne simply took his game to another level with Lion City Sailors this season.

With a staggering 25 goals -- which also earned him the Golden Boot -- and 21 assists, the Belgian was not to be denied this time around as he was named the 2023 SPL Player of the Year on Thursday night.

Not that it really bothered him.

Earlier this year, when talking about his prospects of gaining recognition for his performances via the award, Lestienne casually brushed aside the significance of individual accolades.

"This year, and I think last year as well, I deserve to be the Player of the Year," he told ESPN back in September.

"Honestly, if I don't win, it's life -- life's like this. I prefer to win the (SPL) title than be the Player of the Year or (top) scorer, or the (player with the) most assists -- I don't really care."

While there was a hint of indignation in his voice when he briefly revisited last year's Player of the Year snub, it did seem to stem from the sheer confidence in the displays he was delivering on a weekly basis rather than an arrogance which onlookers might mistake it for given the flair and nonchalance he exudes on the pitch.

This season, he was simply irresistible and yet, there was another candidate that was potentially equally deserving of the recognition.

Ryoya Taniguchi's haul of 23 goals was just two shy of Lestienne's top-scoring tally.

It came while playing for an unfancied Balestier Khalsa outfit who exceeded all expectations to finish fourth in the SPL, and often times in a traditional central-midfield role and not even as an advanced playmaker.

Despite coming from less-glamorous surroundings as opposed to the star-studded Sailors, Taniguchi would have been a worthy winner in any other season.

Just not this one. Not with the form Lestienne was in.

But considering the main target for Lestienne is team success and not individual awards, then it is perhaps safe to say the job he came to Singapore for is not quite done yet.

They came excruciatingly close last term as they finished just two points behind eventual champions Albirex Niigata (S), but this year was a far bigger disappointment with the White Swans going back-to-back by a healthy eight-point buffer.

The Sailors could yet attain silverware in 2023 in the form of the Singapore Cup, while they remain alive in the AFC Champions League -- Asia's premier club competition -- but it remains a big ask getting out of a tricky Group F, even if they did pull off a memorable 2-0 win over two-time champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors last time out.

With Lestienne -- who has previously plied his trade in countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Russia and even Qatar -- looking settled, an ESPN source reveals that LCS are close to officially finalising a contract extension to the two-year deal he initially penned at the start of 2022.

It would mean that the Sailors, and the Singapore Premier League, will be able to continue savouring the mesmerising performances Lestienne constantly provides to the delight of the Singaporean football fraternity.

And for Lestienne, it would mean that now he has received the biggest individual accolade the SPL has to offer -- even if he was not gunning for it and albeit perhaps a year late -- he can get back to the main task: leading the Sailors to glory.