One of the top performers in the league this season, the Lion City Sailors forward is aiming for the coveted Player of the Year award.
There was an air of optimism as the Lion City Sailors (LCS) heralded a new dawn in March this year when it was announced that the club will be privatised under the stewardship of new Chairman Forrest Li, founder of SEA Ltd.
The tech mogul immediately launched a slew of changes, bringing in former Socceroo Aurelio Vidmar as head coach along with a bevy of high-profile signings such as Shahdan Sulaiman, Hassan Sunny and Kaishu Yamazaki.
Things got off to a slow start however, with the Sailors held to a draw against Tanjong Pagar, before suffering a 4-0 defeat against Tampines Rovers.
The suspension of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that LCS had only a single point to show for, until the league restarted six months later in October. Barring major injuries, that period was the longest most players have ever stayed away from a football pitch.
Sailors winger Gabriel Quak was caught in that predicament and while the first few weeks went by quickly, the former Thai League star began to realise how much he missed the game of football.
“It has been a really strange year but one that defined my love for football. When circuit breaker came, we couldn’t train and couldn’t even play five-a-side,” the 29-year-old told Youthopia.
“Initially, I thought it’ll last a few weeks but as the days went by, and more cases were reported around the world, I started to wonder when I will get a chance to be back on the pitch again.
“As a professional, I continued keeping myself fit at home but I told myself to always remember this feeling when we are allowed back on the pitch. How much I missed playing football, almost similar to the simple joy of after school kickabouts when I was a young kid growing up.”
The experienced forward kept to his word when the season resumed, becoming one of the top performers in the league. His performances also helped his team climb up the standings.
The Sailors were also in title contention at one point, although a draw against Tampines Rovers earlier this week put paid to any title hopes.
That disappointment aside, the stability at the club meant that the Sailors can take heart in their maiden campaign under their new name, said Gabriel.
He stated: “I think what makes this season special is that under these circumstances, coach and us, the players have built up a good rapport and there is a very good linkage between young and veteran players. We have a lot of talented youngsters in our squad and as a senior, I am excited to help them along the way both on and off the pitch.
“And to be at a club where we have a boss like Forrest who believes in the project and vision is very assuring. So hopefully, we can repay his commitment to us by giving him silverware.”
While the Bishan-based outfit did not make it into the AFC Champions League, they did secure a spot in the 2021’s AFC Cup.
“Getting into the AFC Cup was a minimum target for us and while we are pleased to have done it, the goal has to be to qualify for the AFC Champions League next year,” said Gabriel, revealing the club’s long-term objectives.
“As for the league, we had a poor start but were the form team after the restart so we have to learn from this season’s experience and get out of the blocks quickly next time out.”
Gabriel currently tops the assists charts in the league with seven assists. He is also the top local goalscorer this season with five goals, one ahead of Hougang United’s Shawal Anuar. With just one more game to play on Saturday (Dec 5), the odds are in his favour to remain as the top creator and top local goalscorer when the season ends.
He gave himself a passing grade and made it clear that his personal ambition is to win the coveted Player of the Year award.
“Personally, to be the top local goalscorer and to top the league in assists is a very good achievement but I am also at the stage of my career where I want and should be at the top of my game,” he declared.
“That’s why we play the game and one of my personal silent targets since returning to the local league after playing in Thailand is to get the Player of the Year award so if I don’t get it this time, no problem, I will just work doubly hard to put myself in contention next season.”
Quak is on a two-year contract with the club and will definitely be a mainstay in Vidmar’s starting XI come 2021.
Hopefully, without the distraction of the pandemic and their experience from a maiden campaign, the boys in blue can set sail early and stay the course for a first piece of silverware both on the domestic and AFC Cup front.
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