Emerging from a disrupted and truncated Singapore Premier League season with an AFC Cup ticket last year must qualify as a success for Geylang International.
The Eagles finished fourth behind champions Albirex Niigata, Tampines Rovers and Lion City Sailors, and qualified for the AFC Cup as the third-best local club.
They were able to do so by securing more wins than the chasing pack, as they won six out of 14 games. However, a closer inspection of the league table suggests room for improvement in the scoring section, as their 18 goals for would have placed them in the bottom half.
On that end, the management team and coaching staff have brought in foreign reinforcements in Brazilian Matheus Moresche and Dutchman Sylvano Comvalius, after releasing Khairul Nizam to Hougang United and allowing Iqbal Hussain to sign for I-League’s Chennai City.
In a career spanning 15 years, the 1.92-metre Comvalius has played for 18 clubs before landing in Singapore.
If his 37 goals in 34 games for Indonesia’s Bali United as recently as 2017 is anything to go by, the 33-year-old is highly likely to take the SPL by storm.
Moresche, on the other hand, is an up-and-coming 22-year-old talent who looks to have a sweet right foot and is good with headers as well.
The duo are expected to lead the lines with local attackers Christopher van Huizen, Fareez Farhan and Amy Recha possibly providing support from wide positions.
Dutch midfielder Barry Maguire has been a proven quantity since his arrival in 2019 and has struck up a good partnership Firdaus Kasman in the engine room, which will be further boosted by the signing of Izzdin Shafiq, who adds another dimension to Geylang’s game play with his range of passing.
Besides a couple of 4-0 drubbings by Albirex and the Sailors in the first four games that were aided by red cards, the Eagles defence has largely held firm, with 22 goals conceded in 14 matches.
There is healthy competition between the sticks with Hairul Syirhan and Zainol Gulam battling for a starting berth, with Wayne Chew providing cover.
Skipper Yuki Ichikawa remains an ever-present in the heart of defence and will lead the team from the back in his eighth season with the club. Despite the departure of Shahrin Saberin to Tanjong Pagar, loan signing Faizal Roslan should be able to step up and in after impressing with the Sailors for the past three seasons, and the towering Adam Hakeem will also be eager to establish himself as a starter.
The full-back positions are also well-filled with vice-captain Darren Teh and Young Player of the Year nominee Harith Kanadi proving themselves strong in one-on-one situations and dynamic on the overlap.
However, Geylang coach Noor Ali will do well to address the occasional over-exuberance as their six dismissals last season were by far the league’s highest, with Balestier Khalsa the next and only other team on two red cards.
With the league back to playing three rounds again, fitness will also be key with the Eagles involved in the AFC Cup for the first time since 2010.
On the under-23 front, the team are also well-stocked with talent and potential despite losing Joshua Pereira, Noor Ariff and Ifwat Ismail to National Service.
Teenage striker Zikos Chua will look to bounce back after an injury-disrupted and goalless season. The 18-year-old had impressed with five goals in 11 games in 2019 and is still one of the country’s brightest attacking prospects.
Geylang have also signed midfielders Nur Luqman and Elijah Lim from the Young Lions and Balestier Khalsa respectively, as well as forward Idris Sadlizan, while defender Badrul Amin Noh and midfielder Azri Suhaili are promoted from the youth team.
With a keen eye for youth development, Noor Ali has delivered results in the first of his three-year contract last term.
All eyes will now be on whether he can further improve and deliver yet another stunning upset to crack the established top three this season, as well as to make a good cup run in September to try and pick up a trophy for the first time since 2009.