Despite losing a number of key players over pre-season, Courts Young Lions remain upbeat ahead of the 2012 Great Eastern-YEO’s S.League season.
The Young Lions head into this weekend’s season opener against Woodlands Wellington have lost several key players to Malaysia Super League outfit LIONSXII, including captain Hariss Harun, goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, and key defensive duo Safuwan Baharudin and Irwan Shah.
Coach Robin Chitrakar has been boosted by four foreign arrivals – Danish forward Benjamin Kristofferson Lee, Canadian winger Sherif El-Masri, and French duo Sirina Camara and Jonathan Toto.
And ahead of the new season, Chitrakar insists the Young Lions’ priority this season remains nurturing young talent, and is refusing to set targets for his youthful side.
“Preparation has been good,” the 35-year-old coach said at their season launch at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Monday.
“We have finally completed our fourth signing Sherif. We have played three friendlies so far. With the new signings and a lot of new young players in the team, we will hope to get them to play together as quickly as possible.
“It will be a long season for us and we’ll be more focused on developing new players and giving more players from the U-18s a chance.
“It will take time definitely, but I’m sure with this pool of talent we have, we can achieve our goal to develop new players.”
When asked particularly which players he expects to step up to the plate this season, Chitrakar told ESPNSTAR.com to look out for new captain Hafiz Abu Sajad, Shafiq Ghani and goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
“One of them [whom we expect to step up this season] is definitely Hafiz. He’s one of the more experienced boys, and I believe he’ll be the next one [from Young Lions] who’ll take the step up in the near future.
“They will definitely need time. They are a pool of talent, they need to be more ready and this is a good platform [to showcase their abilities]. Given time, I believe someone like Shafiq Ghani, who missed the bulk of last season due to national service, will be the next one to step up.
“Young Syazwan will feature more this season definitely. He was third-choice [goalkeeper] last year and it was good that we brought him in. This year is a good chance for him to show us what he can do.”
In particular, plenty of focus will be on Hafiz, who will have to step up following the departure of influential figure Hariss.
However, the 19-year-old reveals he is ready to step up to the task, and hopes to inspire his team-mates on the field.
“I think my job is definitely to encourage the young players and to keep them going throughout the season,” Hafiz told ESPNSTAR.com.
“[I’ll also be looking to] impart some experience that I have to them so that they can excel as players.
“We’ve been preparing well this pre-season and I think the boys are gelling well as a team and clicking well with the new foreign signings.”
One of those imports tipped to make an impact for the Young Lions is Kristofferson Lee, who is eligible to play for Singapore through his father.
And despite only recently moving to Singapore, the 22-year-old striker has seen enough to be convinced his new side can make an impact in the S.League this year.
“So far, I have a good impression of this team,” Kristofferson Lee said. “The team spirit is very good and I’m very excited.
“I don’t know the players that well but I can see there are many winner in the team – many with winning qualities.
“For myself, first of all I want to play every match here, do well and adapt to the league and how you football here [in Singapore].”
The 2012 S.League season will see the introduction of Malaysia representative side Harimau Muda, who are plying their trade in Singapore after an agreement was reached between both countries’ football associations.
And while have drawn comparisons between the Young Lions and Harimau Muda because of their similar status as the feeder team to their respective national sides, Chitrakar launched a scathing attack on suggestions his side would be under pressure to match the performances of their Malaysian counterparts.
“I don’t think you can compare us with Harimau Muda,” Chitrakar added. “They don’t have players who are serving national service like us, [nor] do they have full-time students.
“We are completely different [from Harimau Muda]. If you have a team that doesn’t have anything to do apart from training and preparing for matches, and a team who have full-time jobs, it’s going to be very tough for my boys. I don’t know if they [Harimau Muda] are going to face all these factors in preparing for matches.”
The Young Lions finished a respectable 9th in the S.League last season, but with a host of key departures, the pressure will be on their new breed of youngsters to step up in 2012.