Congratulations to Etoile FC for winning the S-League in their debut season

My heartiest congratulations to Etoile FC, a club made up of French players, for winning the S-League title on their debut season and for doing it in style.

I have to admit that I had my apprehensions when I first heard, back in January, that a create-from-scratch club made up of French journeymen players would be the new foreign club competing in the S-League. You can read about my concerns here.  

But Etoile have proven them wrong and so let me eat a slice of humble pie and congratulate them on their array of achievements ie winning the S-League title, the League Cup, the Top Scorer’s Award via striker Frederic Mendy as well as reaching the semi-finals of the RHB Singapore Cup.

I did find intriguing Etoile chairman Johan Gouttefangeas’ remark that changes to his playing staff will be inevitable. It suggests that a number of his players will probably be leaving the club for greener pastures. I wonder how many of them will be lured by the likes of Home United, Tampines Rovers and SAFFC?

And yes, it will be interesting to see if Etoile can continue next season to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves this year.

In contrast, Beijing Guoan, the other new foreign team to join the S-League this year, proved to be yet another major disappointment from China. Not only did they finish a dismal 10th, their biggest contribution to the S-League was being part of a mass brawl with the Young Lions, the worst on-pitch free-for-all ever witnessed in the history of the tournament.

I had expected more from the Chinese club since it was supposedly a feeder squad of the senior side which is apparently a powerhouse in the C-League. But now they’ve joined the growing heap of flop Chinese clubs that have consistently been an embarrassment to both themselves and the S-League.

Word has it that Beijing may pull out of the S-League next year. I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

In my humble opinion, it would be nice to see the Super Reds returning to the S-League. Made up of promsing young Korean players. they had their application to join the 2010 season rejected despite finishing second and fifth in 2008 and 2009.

One reason could be that they had decided to turn themselves into a local club for the 2010 season, calling themselves the Yishun Super Reds and having mostly local players on their roster and retaining only four Koreans.

I wonder if the Super Reds could consider a change of tack. For example, maybe they should consider having mostly Korean players and four locals (maybe a mix of experienced names and young promising talents) in their squad instead.  Something for the club to consider?

Well, let’s see what happens in the coming months. But I am seriously hoping we end this stupid fascination with  Chinese clubs.

Back to my original starting point for this post.

Congratulations once again to Etoile, and commiserations to Tampines Rovers for losing out on the crown by a point, and to Stags striker Aleksandar Duric, once again one of the top performers in the league,  for missing out on the Top Scorer’s award by one goal.

Here’s The Straits Times report on Etoile’s historic S-League title win last night and another report which singled out the club’s three top performers for the season. Here’s also a link to Ko Po Hui’s report on his website Bolasepako.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

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Etoile makes S-League History

(The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2010)

By Fabius Chen

THE Stars were out to party at Jurong East Stadium last night, as Etoile FC were crowned the 2010 Great Eastern-YEO’S S-League champions with a 4-2 win over Albirex Niigata.

In doing so, the French side became the first foreign club to lift the trophy and completed a first season Double, having also won the League Cup earlier.

An almighty roar erupted from the stands where the Etoile supporters were gathered when referee Muhd Taqi blew the final whistle, while the players engaged in hugs, high-fives and songs.

Before them, the closest any non-local side had come to claiming Singapore football’s top prize was when the Super Reds finished runners-up in 2008.

And how fitting it was that Etoile’s journey to becoming the league’s first foreign champions ended against the Japanese side, after it had begun with a 1-0 win over fellow newcomers Beijing Guoan of China on Feb 12.

Coach Patrick Vallee paid tribute to his players: ‘They have worked hard all year, so this title is for them.’

They were made to work especially hard last night in a thrilling encounter, played in front of a raucous 1,750-strong crowd, twice coming back from a goal down to hold off the challenges of Tampines Rovers and Home United, who finished second and third respectively.

Needing to better the Stars’ result to snatch the crown, the Stags kept up their end of the bargain by demolishing Balestier Khalsa 4-1.

But it was all in vain, as late goals from Frederic Mendy and Matthias Verschave rendered their result moot.

Defender Kazuki Kobayashi scored twice in the first half for Albirex but Loic Leclercq’s 31st-minute penalty and Mendy’s first goal of the night in the 64th set the stage for the two decisive goals in the closing 13 minutes.

Home, meanwhile, ended their season with a whimper as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Singapore Armed Forces FC.

To round off the night for Etoile, striker Mendy also claimed the top scorer award, his brace sending him to 21 goals for the season, one ahead of Tampines’ Aleksandar Duric.

Stars captain Verschave said: ‘It’s much more difficult for the foreign team to win because most Singaporeans are against us.’

And their achievement did not go unnoticed, with S-League chief executive officer Winston Lee being one of the first people to congratulate the French side.

‘They have brightened the S-League with their brand of football and also prompted the local clubs to raise the tempo and intensity of their game,’ he noted. ‘Their victory will spur our local clubs to do better as they look to reclaim the title next season.’

Concurring with this was Richard Bok, coach of displaced champions SAFFC.

‘Having a foreign champion is a good wake-up call for all local clubs,’ he stressed.

But not just local clubs, apparently.

Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama said: ‘We want to be like them (Etoile), and we will fight to do so next season.’

It will not be easy, though; even before his side were presented the S-League trophy, the Stars’ chairman Johan Gouttefangeas had already set his sights on 2011.

‘I feel like my stomach is only half-full because we didn’t ‘makan’ the Singapore Cup,’ he joked, in reference to what he said about wanting to ‘makan’ all three prizes in local football when Etoile first arrived in Singapore.

And he remains confident, even as he admitted that changes to his playing staff are inevitable.

‘It will be hard to retain all these players,’ he conceded. ‘We will have no choice but to bring in some new blood. But they will be as good as this year’s.’

And, as he prepared to leave the stadium, Gouttefangeas had a promise for the rest of the league.

‘Next year will be a good year as well,’ he said confidently.

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Etoile’s trio of  great performers

(The Straits Times, 10 Nov 2010)

By Lee Min Kok

Frederic Mendy, striker, 22

The French debutants have stamped their mark on the S-League this season, and none more than their target-man up front.

A 21-goal haul proves the Frenchman to be the real deal. He beats all-time league top scorer Duric to the Golden Boot by one goal. Might not be with Etoile next season, as several of the S-League’s top clubs are casting an envious eye at the lanky 1.90m forward.

Loic Leclercq, defender, 22

While the Stars have Mendy to thank for banging in the goals, they also boast the league’s best defensive record, having conceded a miserly 23 goals in 33 games.

For that, they have the uncompromising Lerclerq to thank for marshalling a disciplined Etoile backline all season.

Karim Boudjema, winger, 22

The French do love their flying wingers. Full of trickery and pace, he has been a revelation on the left flank.

Has shown a keen eye for goal as well, weighing in with six this season, including crucial efforts against Woodlands and Geylang.

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