DPMM FC's Hj Muhd Subhi Abdilah Hj Bakir (R) celebrates with Ivan Jerkovic (C) and Shahrazen Said after scoring the opener in the team's 2-1 win against Albirex Niigata at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas on 11 March 2012. The Japanese side have won all three meetings since then. Picture: BT file
DPMM FC coach Steve Kean (R) and assistant coach Moksen Mohammad before the club's annual pre-season photo shoot on Feb 13. Kean will be on the bench for his first S-League game when DPMM FC face Albirex Niigata (S) FC today. Picture: BT/Jason Thomas
Fans can expect a new style of play from DPMM FC when Brunei's premier football club kick off the Steve Kean era by taking on Albriex Niigata (S) FC in their Singapore League (S-League) season opener today.
Talk of the former Blackburn Rovers manager's move to the S-League in November created huge buzz, and the Scotsman - who is the highest profile coach in the league - will be looking to stamp his mark on the team after taking over from Vjeran Simunic -who led the club to two Singapore League Cups and a runners-up finish in 2012.
During his first meeting with local media in November, Kean promised to shape a stronger defensive unit, but not at the cost of the team's attacking instinct, saying that "When you lose the ball, everyone is a defender".
It is evident now that Kean expects his players to press the ball more and put a stop to letting in late goals, which was one of the factors that contributed to the team's eighth placed finish last season.
"We'll be moving the ball around a lot more quicker this season with one, two three passes. So other teams will find it hard to get the ball off us," Kean revealed during a training session this week.
"We've been working on closing down spaces in training. When to press and when to drop down," he explained.
Except for goalkeeper Wardun Yussof who was sent off against Harimau Muda B (Malaysian national Under-21 team) in their second-last game of last season, all the other players are available to play.
Training at the Jerudong Mini Stadium has been less physical-based over the past few days, with Kean instead focusing on the team's tactical play, set plays and free-kicks leading up to today's tie.
Praising his players' fitness as "excellent", Kean knows the team must have to have enough gas in its tanks to last for 90 minutes if they are to maintain the flavour of play that Kean wants to serve.
After their trip to the Jurong East Stadium today, DPMM FC will welcome the Warriors at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas next Friday. They then take on Home United at the Bishan Stadium on March 14 before facing defending champions Tampines Rovers on March 23.
"It's a tough fixture list," admitted Kean.
"All the teams have improved from last season, so I think there will be no easy games," predicted the former academy director at Fulham and Reading.
Albirex's head-to-head record with DPMM FC points to them as favourites tonight, with the Japanese club winning their last three meetings and DPMM FC the two games before that.
Like Kean, Albirex's coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama will also be making his S-League debut for the club tonight.
Albirex's league standings have progressed over the years, finishing fourth in 2011 and 2012 and third last season.
This season, though, they aim to go all the way - with the S-League website reporting that the Japanese outfit hope to win the league this year.
"We participated in the S-League since 2004 and this will be our 11th season. To repay the support from all (sponsors and fans), I would like to announce our target for 2014; it's the S-League title," said club chairman Daisuke Korenaga to thunderous cheers and applause during this week's annual pre-season kick-off party at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.
"Our players are young and the average age is 23 years old, and it is the first time that they are traveling out of the country for many of them.
"In Albirex (S), we encourage young Japanese footballers to step up and to get experience here before playing in their home country or elsewhere. This overseas experience will be exciting for their future and our country, Japan," added Korenaga.
The S-League reported that leading the club will be captain Shuhei Hotta, who is in his fourth year with the White Swans, while Kenjiro Ogino, Shinji Kagawa's former teammate at J-League side Cerezo Osaka, will be wearing the gloves.
Sharp shooter Kazuyuki Sakamoto, who extended his stay with the club, and new recruits such as Kosuke Matsuda and Keisuke Ota, are also ones to watch out for.
Matsuda displayed nifty dribbling feat during pre-season while ex-Nagoya Grampus Under-18 player Ota constantly caused headache for the opponents with his marauding runs down the flanks and an eye for the goal from the edge of the box.
Today's other game will see Hougang United take on Woodlands Wellington at the Hougang Stadium in Singapore.
Also penciled in for the opening week are ties pitting Young Lions (Singapore national Under-23 team) against Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore and Warriors against Geylang International at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium in Singapore tomorrow.
The last game of the opening round will see Harimau Muda B host Tanjong Pagar United at the Pasir Gudang Stadium in Johor, Malaysia on Monday.