|By Khalis Rifhan
Former SAFFC captain Nenad Bacina has his work cut out for him as he takes over at the helm of defending S.League champions Tampines Rovers, who have assembled a new-look squad for the 2013 season.
With a squad boasting quality foreign players such as towering Serbian striker Sead Hadzibulic and Singapore national players such as Shahdan Sulaiman, Khairul Amri, Shaiful Esah and newly-appointed captain Mustafic Fahrudin, Bacina hopes to have a decent campaign in both local and regional competition.
“The target is always the same, as this is Tampines. We are playing in three domestic and one regional tournament [and] we will do our best domestically and go further in the AFC Cup,” the Croatian stressed.
“Singapore clubs always lose when they meet Middle-East teams in the knockout stages [so] I want us to show that local clubs are able to [go] a level higher.
"It won't be easy but my job is to make things work and hopefully it will [work] for us."
The 42-year-old, who was the coach of Hougang United last season, is undaunted by the challenge of doing well in four competitions.
“Those who don’t like the challenges can sit in the shade and hide. I am not that kind of person,” Bacina assertively stated.
“I hope to continue the good run by Singapore in regional competitions. The LionsXII and the national team have been doing their best for [the] past few years and we have a good chance to move further, not only for us but Singapore as well.”
Also joining the squad will be former Argentine top-flight player, midfielder Martin Wagner, who has played for Racing Club in the Primera Division.
Wagner started his professional career with Olimpo de Bahia Blanca in 2004 and was also part of the team that was relegated from the Primera Division in 2006, but bounced back the following season after winning the Primera B Nacional Arpertura and Clausura championship.
Despite being the club’s first marquee signing since Brazilian Renato Martins in 2011, Bacina does not want the midfielder to be bogged down by the ‘star’ tag and hopes he can blend in with the other players.
“We expect him (Wagner) to help us and vice versa but I don’t like to put pressure on a single player as it’s all about team work, and I hope he'll gel with us very well,” he explained.
Wagner also earned praise from his new boss, chairman Teo Hock Seng.
“I have been to Argentina a few times and the level of football there is very high. He comes from Racing, a top-five club there," he said.
Bacina will be assisted by former Singapore international Rafi Ali, with his former assistant at Hougang, Hyrizan Jufri named as the Stags' new Prime League coach, replacing Steven Tan who was removed as the club’s head coach towards the end of the last season.
Tampines Rovers Squad
Goalkeepers: Sasa Dreven (Croatian), Ridhuan Bahrudin
Defenders: Kaneko Seiji, Yamashita Kunihiro (both Japanese), Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Shaiful Esah, Anaz Hadee
Midfielders: Martin Wagner (Argentine), Shahdan Sulaiman, Firdaus Kasman, Mustafic Fahrudin, Imran Sahib, Jamil Ali
Forwards: Sead Hadzibulic (Serbian), Aleksandar Duric, Ahmad Fahmie, Khairul Amri, Fazil Zailani