Voices From The Ground: Albirex Niigata (S) vs Home United Football Club – What The Players Think

Stipe Plazibat (blue) has been in sensational form for Home United this season.

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground:  Our writer speaks with Home United players Stipe Plazibat, Amiruldin Asraf and Eko Pradana Putra after their win against Albirex Niigata (S). This is what they thought about the game.

Post match comments with Croatian striker Stipe Plazibat

Chris (C): Hello Stipe, I represent the S.League Podcast.

Stipe Plazibat: (S): You are taking care of the S.League Podcast now?

C: Yes, we write about everything related to local football. So Stipe, how important was tonight’s win?

S: (Nods emphatically): Very important! To close the gap, put pressure on them and to keep the title challenge alive! If we had lost tonight, the league is as good as over. Luckily we took all three points.

C: You are now the joint S.League top scorer along side Albirex’s Tsubasa Sano, I know that you are a team player who doesn’t care too much about individual glory, but how do you feel about this?

S: (Eager to clarify): I was the top scorer a couple of games ago, Sano overtook me, tonight, I am where I should belong again. I also have a game in hand so I believe that I can overtake him. Like I said before in my first interview, I don’t care about my personal statistics. However, in my position, I have to score. If I don’t, the team’s success is compromised. This season has been going very well, hopefully we can continue this form to the end of the season.

C: Your ex-neighbor back in Croatia, Croatian national striker Nikola Kalinić, is doing very well for Italian side Florentina too. He made a big jump from Blackburn Rovers to Florentina. You also made career moves, moving from Japan’s FC Gifu to Hougang United, right now you find yourself right at home with Home United. Obviously for this season, you aim to do well and to win all the trophies available. In the long run, do you see yourself returning to the likes of the J-League, perhaps 2 or 3 seasons from now?

S: I need to at least hope to aim for the likes of the J-League, A-League, Thai League, K-League or the Chinese League. We need to aim to play at higher levels.

C: Understandably so, with a higher level of income and prestige.

S: Everything! To be able to play at a better level.

C: It is only fair for a player to want to advance his career.

S: (Interrupts enthusiastically): If we don’t aim, what’s the point of playing? What’s the point of playing in only one league? If we are not ambitious, how can we improve ourselves?

C: Indeed, up to this point, with just over one third of the league done, between Song Ui-Young and yourself, you guys are making a pretty big shout out to be the Player of the Year. How do you guys keep your morale up yet not get big headed?

S: This team is very young! I am only 28 and already one of the oldest. The team is hungry for success. We haven’t won anything yet and have to focus. Coach Aidil always tells us to stay grounded, work hard and take games one at a time. No point in thinking too many months ahead. One game at a time! (Nods affirmatively).

Our next opponent is Hougang United, we’ll need to win that to stay near the top.

C: When you first joined Home United, not everyone was impressed. Now people are claiming that you are ‘God-like’, a pivotal player. People are fickle minded and cannot seem to decide.

S: People are just like that, no one remembers what you did in the last five years or even last year. All they care about is now. That’s why we need to work hard to stay at the top. In the first two games, I scored two goals but some people were still talking rubbish. It’s not fair, how can I be judged after just two games? After 10-15 games perhaps, not two! (Shows mild irritation).

That was a painful and angry process for me. The coach was there and gave me a lot of support. I want to thank him for everything. It is also easier to do well when I am surrounded by quality players.

C: With numerous national players around you, you are indeed in good hands. For the health of the league, it was good that your team won. There were fans from other clubs tonight in the stands, willing you guys on. Between Home United, Albirex and Tampines Rovers, everyone has a chance now.

S: I think that we have a very good chance with a good team, good mentality and a healthy squad. We lost Hassan (Sunny) to injury tonight and Song is injured too. Despite missing such key players, we can see the strength of our squad by getting the win.

C: Yes, the likes of Aqhari Abdullah is injured too. Younger players like Sufianto Salleh and Shamil Sharif have stepped up over the course of the season and did a good job. Good job Home United and Stipe. Good luck ahead, thanks and good night!

Stipe Plazibat, a man evolved. With more than half of the season to 'goal' (forgive the pun), he has already scored more than he did for the whole of last season. He didn’t convince everyone when he arrived at Home United but he has allowed his boots to do the talking.

Despite being mildly unhappy at how he was initially judged, he buckled on, allowing his team to reap the benefits of his good work. He’s also eloquent for a non-native speaker and is a joy to speak to. This is the same nice guy whom I spoke to months ago and success did not change him.

As the adage goes, nice guys come in last. For his sake, I hope that he will boot the adage away, much like how he boots the opposition away on the field.

Post match comments with Singapore U22 striker / 2016 Prime League Top Scorer Amiruldin Asraf

Chris (C): Hi Amiruldin, how important is tonight’s win?

Amiruldin (A): (Emphatically): Very important! So that we can get closer to Albirex, to chase the title!

C: We have seen you emerge from the NFA to Home United. You starred in the Prime League and now you find yourself playing with the first team. You have featured in the S.League and the AFC and you have already opened your S.League account, scoring twice so far.

While you are currently playing for the Singapore U22 national team, do you see yourself emerging to join the senior national team one day?

A: (Enthusiastically): Hopefully! If I am given the chance, I will show them and help the team to win all the matches!

C: You haven’t been out of place playing along side Home United’s National players. Feeling good about this season?

A: Very good! Every time I play with them (the national players), they will teach me and talk to me. With their guidance, I am sure that I will make it into the national team.

C: With the fasting month almost over, you guys will be faster and stronger!

A: (Nods) It has been difficult for us but Coach Aidil has trained us in an excellent manner.

C: Well it had been a great season for you guys, you guys also proved that Albirex can be beaten. Hopefully Hassan Sunny will recover quickly. Good luck ahead to you and your club, good night!

Singapore has always been well stocked in terms of quality goalkeepers. From the likes of David Lee in the nineties, Lionel Lewis and Sharil Jantan at the turn of the millennium to the likes of Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahmud in the current era, we have never been short of safe pair of hands.

Sadly, we can’t say the same for our strikers. After the likes of Fandi Ahmad and Noh Alam Shah, true out-and-out strikers has been few and far in between. Khairul Amri is aging while the likes of Khairul Nizam has yet to really stake a claim for himself as our nation’s chief striker. As willing as he is, Safuwan Baharudin is not a striker.

If a country’s youth team is the best indicator for a nation’s future success, our country is looking sparse upfront. Young Lions Coach Richard Tardy has indicated that he is looking for goals from the likes of Taufik Suparno, Ikhsan Fandi and Amiruldin. Should any of them do well, there isn’t much stopping them from stepping into the senior national team. I have been impressed with Amiruldin’s pressing style of play and will be monitoring his progress closely.

Post match comments with Home United custodian Eko Pradana Putra

Chris (C): Hi Eko, I am representing the S.League Podcast.

Eko (E): Hi, how are you?

C: I am great. Unfortunately, Hassan Sunny suffered a pretty bad injury and now it’s up to you and Rudy Khairullah to fight it out for the gloves. How do you feel about this situation?

E: (Deep in thoughts): Err, I feel sorry for Hassan, I have no idea how long he will be out. I understand that he has a broken nose and…

C: A dislocated shoulder.

E: I will train hard with Rudy to prepare for the upcoming games

C: Between the league, local Cups and the AFC Cup, games will come quickly.

E: We have to prepare for the AFC Cup, that’s very important. It’s one month away. (Home United play Ceres Negros in the ASEAN Zonal Finals over two legs on the 2nd and 9th of August).

C: Last season, when you competed with Zulfairuuz Rudy and Hyrulnizam (Juma'at) for the gloves, you did okay. I feel that the coach has confidence in you. Personally, are you confident if you are called upon?

E: As long as my Coach and teammates support me, it should be fine.

C: As I mentioned to you a few months ago, it’s up to you to do well and challenge Hassan Sunny for a spot. He’s not here right now but all the more you need to do well to prove to the coach that keeping you was the right decision.

E: Hopefully Zul(fairuuz Rudy) will do well for Hougang United.

C: Your team will be up against them next week, how do you feel about your chances after this morale boosting win tonight?

E: We cannot be over confident, we need to maintain our way and our goal is to keep winning. We have to focus and take it one game at a time.

C: Eleven Sport’s Duncan Elias said that Home United is the only club who can stop Albirex from winning the title. Do you agree with that?

E: From our perspective, our goal is to win every game one at a time and to win the titles, everything!

C: Well, train hard. If you do well enough, who knows? Keepers don’t normally come on during matches but when they have to, it’s critical that they do well. Rudy came on and did really well. Train hard and who knows what you are capable of? Hopefully Hassan will recover soon and you guys will do him proud. Thanks Eko, good night!

E: Thank you!

Last season, due to injuries on the defensive front, none of the three keepers at Home United really staked a permanent claim for the gloves.

When Eko did play, he did a competent job. Hyrulnizam and Zulfairuuz have left for greener pastures and as the sole remaining keeper from last season, it’s up to him to show that coach Aidil’s faith in him is well placed.

As I am looking forward to Hassan’s recovery, I am fascinated to see how well Rudy and Eko can do in the face of pressure. As they say, true heroes are forged in fire.

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