Footballing Weekly: Albirex Niigata to transition into Singaporean outfit in 2024

SPL club have used predominantly Japanese players since 2004 inception; rivals Lion City Sailors prepare for AFC Champs League

Top Singapore Premier League sides Albirex Niigata (left) and Lion City Sailors. (PHOTOS: FAS)
Top Singapore Premier League sides Albirex Niigata (left) and Lion City Sailors. (PHOTOS: FAS)

SINGAPORE — Two of the top Singapore Premier League (SPL) clubs are preparing for momentous occasions, even as the season is coming to an end with the final round of matches this weekend.

Five-time champions Albirex Niigata (Singapore) - who have already clinched this season's title ahead of the finale - announced on Wednesday (13 September) that it will transition into a local outfit from the 2024 season.

This means that the White Swans - which have been a satellite club of the Japanese league's Albirex Niigata since its inception in 2004, competing with predominantly Japanese players - will have to abide by the same SPL competition rules as local teams, including the foreign player quota.

In doing so, Albirex will therefore be able to represent Singapore in regional competitions such as the AFC Champions League or AFC Cup, should they get the nod from the Asian Football Confederation and earn those spots.

This is a massive change in the team's setup, even though they have already introduced several local players into their team since 2018, when Adam Swandi became the first Singaporean player to play for the White Swans.

"We’re very serious about the future of Singapore football," Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga said during a media conference at Jurong East Stadium on Wednesday.

“It has become more important how we can contribute to local football, rather than our original objective of distributing players to Japan. Next year is our 20th anniversary, so it’s time for change.”

Lion City Sailors prepare 2nd AFC Champs League campaign

Meanwhile, the Lion City Sailors - which are set to finish runners-up to Albirex for a second straight season - are preparing to represent Singapore at the AFC Champions League, which is set to kick its group stage next week.

The 2021 SPL champions will be looking to improve from last season's maiden Champions League outing, where they garnered seven points in the group stage, including victories over South Korea's Daegu FC and China's Shandong Taishan.

This time around, the Sailors are drawn into Group F together with two-time Champions League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea, Bangkok United of Thailand and Kitchee Sports Club of Hong Kong.

Only the top team in each of the 10 groups are guarantee progress into the next round, with the six best second-place teams also advancing.

The Sailors are eager to become the first SPL team to advance out of the group stage, and will want to start their campaign with a home win against Bangkok United next Wednesday (20 September).

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