Albirex Niigata to become local football club with mainly S'porean players from 2024 season


Syahindah Ishak | September 13, 2023, 06:37 PM



Albirex Niigata Singapore FC will be transforming into a "local club" at the start of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) 2024 season.

The club's chairman Daisuke Korenaga and vice chairman Koh Mui Tee made the announcement at a press conference in Jurong East Stadium on Sep. 13, 2023.

Daisuke said the reason for this transition is to help the Singapore national team to "become stronger".

The transition also aims to "increase the presence of football" in the country, and be the "top sport that connects communities".

Mainly Singaporeans in the club next season

Answering questions from the media, Koh explained that the transformation will mean that majority of the players in the club will be Singaporeans.

Albirex's professional squad currently consists of 15 Japanese players and nine Singaporean players, including national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.

Under SPL regulations, all local clubs are only allowed to register a maximum of four foreign players.

Koh said all four foreign players Albirex will have next season will "most likely" be from the pool of Japanese players in its existing squad.

When asked what will happen to the other Japanese players who don't get chosen next season, Koh said the club will help them to either transfer to other clubs in Singapore, or to other clubs in the region.

The club will also aid them should they wish to go back to Japan.

Koh said Albirex will start to formally talk to other local players in the league before the next season starts.

He added that there are currently no plans to make any changes to the coaching staff, which already comprises a few Singaporeans.

According to Koh, the club had spoken to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and the Unleash The Roar (UTR) team prior to announcing their plans to the public.

"[They] are aware and are supportive of our direction," said Koh.

Planned this for a long time

During the press conference, Daisuke also highlighted other key projects that the club has already implemented to boost the football scene in Singapore.

Since the club arrived in Singapore in 2004, it only played with Japanese players.

But in 2018, with the approval from the league, Albirex acquired its first local players and has since been getting more local players in the club.

It has also been creating an environment for the development of youth players by launching an academy in Singapore.

In December 2022, Albirex signed a partnership with Belgian's second division team KMSK Deinze to create a route for local players to transfer to Europe.

Singaporean Ilhan Fandi was the first transfer made from Albirex to Deinze.

"This is not a fly-by-night or snap-by-the-finger decision. We have planned this for a long time," Koh added.

When asked why next season was the right time to fully transform into a local club, Daisuke explained that the decision was made in view of the club's 20th anniversary in Singapore.

Aims to participate in AFC tournaments

Following the press conference, Albirex released an official statement on its website and social media pages.

The statement said:

"We are pleased to announce that from the 2024 season, Albirex Niigata FC (S) will be shifting from a club with mainly Japanese players in the professional team to a club with mainly Singaporean players."

The statement added that in line with the change and depending on the club's league performance next season, it aims to participate in AFC tournaments, such as the AFC Cup.

Due to its foreign status, Albirex has not been able to participate in AFC tournaments even though they have won the Singapore league six times.

Albirex was crowned the 2023 SPL champions on Aug. 11, 2023, despite still having two games left.

Top images via Albirex Niigata/FB.