Shopee Cup

Sailors captain Hariss looking forward to facing "top ASEAN clubs” in Shopee Cup™

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27 Jun 2024


A symbol of Singapore football and the captain of the national team as well as his club side Lion City Sailors, Hariss Harun has had a long illustrious career in Southeast Asian football and is now targeting further success to establish his club amongst the leading teams in the region.

The distinguished defensive midfielder’s career took him across the Causeway divide to Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) where he won multiple domestic titles as well as becoming the only ASEAN club to lift the AFC Cup in 2015.

“It was the same situation when I was at JDT years ago, so the Sailors project really appealed to me in that sense. I firmly believe we have what it takes to match up to the bigger boys, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there,” said Hariss in an exclusive interview with ASEAN United FC.

The hard work for the season has already begun with the Sailors aiming to reclaim the Singapore Premier League title after finishing as runners-up to Albirex Niigata (S) in each of the last two seasons.

The new 2024-25 season got off to a superb start with Hariss and Co. clinching the Singapore Community Shield in the curtain raiser and following that up with a perfect record in the league where they sit top of the table after four rounds, including a 7-1 victory against reigning champions Albirex.

“The mood is good in the camp right now. Obviously, we made a strong start to the season, but we acknowledge it's a long season which runs all the way until May 2025.

“So, we have to take each game and each competition as it comes. We’re very positive right now, and we want to keep working hard to make sure this ends up in a very successful season for us.”

Focus will soon shift towards the ASEAN Club Championship Shopee Cup™ and for a club as ambitious as Lion City Sailors it provides them with the perfect opportunity to showcase their true mettle against some of the region’s biggest clubs.

Rebranded as Lion City Sailors in 2020, the club went on to win the league under the guidance of former manager Kim Do-hoon and are now aiming to add an international trophy to their cabinet.

“It is a really interesting competition that puts together all the top ASEAN clubs. Around the region, there are plenty of top players in various clubs so I’m sure it’s going to be very competitive. Personally, I’m really looking forward to competing in this tournament,” Hariss expressed.

The Sailors are placed in Group B where they will come up against Thai League 1 champions Buriram United, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur City, Cong An Ha Noi FC from Vietnam, Indonesia’s Borneo FC Samarinda and Filipino champions Kaya FC-Iloilo.

On the other hand, Group A will feature BG Pathum United of Thailand, Malaysia’s Terengganu FC and Vietnam’s Dong A Thanh Hoa FC. They will be joined by two winners of the qualifying round play-offs, Young Elephants FC of Laos versus Cambodia’s Svay Rieng FC and Kasuka FC of Brunei DS versus Myanmar’s Shan United FC.

“Obviously Buriram is going to be the favourite in our group, but otherwise I think each team has their own strengths and everyone has an equal chance to make it out of this group.

“It may sound like a cliche, but we have to take it one game at a time and set out with the right tactical plans as a team.

“Our coaching staff will be preparing us adequately for each challenge, so it will be down to us players to carry out the plan and go out there to prove ourselves,” the Sailors captain insisted.

The 33-year-old, who is equally adept in playing as a centre-back or a central midfielder in addition to his more preferred defensive midfield role, featured in 22 league matches last season, continuing to be an ever-present part of the starting lineup.

This season though the Singaporean side will have to juggle several domestic competitions along with the high expectations of performing well in international competitions as well.

“I think we need to be a bit more consistent. We were consistent in spells last season and ended the second half of the season strongly, but that wasn’t enough.

“Throughout this season, we’ll have to manage the squad well with the different competitions we’re in. Each and every member of the team is going to be very important, so it’s important that everyone is positive, fresh and ready to step in for each other,” said the veteran midfielder.

Sailors’ ambition to succeed both in their home nation and beyond is evident given eye-catching signings in recent times which includes winger Maxime Lestienne, with the Belgian recording a mind-boggling 25 goals and 22 assists in the league last season.

They have added to the firepower with former Dutch national team midfielder Bart Ramselaar and German forward Lennart Thy, who are set to make them even more deadly going forward.

“At the Sailors, we’re building an interesting long-term project to be amongst the region’s elite one day. These are players who have played at the highest level in Europe.

“They can really make a difference on the pitch, as well as be the standard bearers that the young players can see and realise what is required to make it to the highest level. These signings are really crucial for the development of our team and I’m really happy to have them in the team,” expressed the skipper.

The club from the Lion City also boasts other big-name Singapore national team players such as Shawal Anuar and Song Ui-young, but with the current stars moving into their 30s the next generation of players will soon have to carry on the mantle.

The Lion City Sailors Academy is aiming to be at the forefront of the country’s talent production line with the club’s youth teams recently embarking on a journey to the Netherlands and Spain.

“Singapore football is where it is right now, so we do need our youths to make the step up and be the future of our game here. I’m really pleased to see a lot of initiatives at the youth development level taking place right now.

“We have to continually give our youths the best environment and the best platform to develop so that when the time comes, they’re ready to help take Singapore football forward – be it at the club level or at the international level. Hopefully they continue to flourish, so that we can have a really good generation or conveyor belt of talent coming through in the years to come,” concluded Hariss.

Much like the Lion City Sailors’ five values - “we serve, we adapt, we run, we commit, we stay humble” - Hariss will aim to instill those in the next generation of talents, for whom the Shopee Cup will be the perfect platform to apply exactly that.

Photo: Lion City Sailors Football Club