Hougang United: Destined for success?

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Hougang United XI -pre season
Hougang United Facebook page
The Cheetahs have been making headlines for their activities during pre-season, but could these 'add-ons' lead them to the S.League title?

Hougang United officially launched their 2017 S.League yesterday evening in a party conducted at the Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Ambitious and forward-thinking chairman Bill Ng has already set a target of winning at least one title this season.

"We believe we can do something, and it is because of all the systems that we have put in place," said Ng in an interview with The New Paper.

New head coach Phillipe Aw added in an interview with the TODAY newspaper: "All the players believe that we win silverware this season, and I’m confident in the ability of the team that I have at my disposal.”

No excuses to not succeed

In a period of uncertainty regarding Singapore football, Hougang United’s progress in pre-season has been remarkable.

Ahead of their 2017 season, the Cheetahs have made impressive signings and retained key players from their 2016 season such as M. Anumanthan, Fumiya Kogure and Iqbal Hussain.

Ball playing centreback Atsushi Shirota has been signed from 2016 S.League champions Albirex Niigata FC (S) while Spanish striker Pablo Rodriguez has been signed from Indonesian Super League team Madura United. Azhar Sairudin and Zulfahmi Arifin have joined Hougang from Home United and Fareez Farhan has been brought in from Garena Young Lions.

However, it is off the field that Hougang have truly made significant strides.

The Cheetahs now have arguably the best facilities in the S.League after investing heavily in their infrastructure, with both dugouts and dressing rooms undergoing impressive renovations. The changing rooms have been given a makeover and now feature bucket seats and a jacuzzi for the home team.

Hougang United dressing room
(Photo credit: Hougang United Facebook page)

They have also spent a reported $15,000 on the Globus EuroGoal, a machine that can shoot a ball at varying speeds, spins and trajectories as a training tool for their goalkeepers.

Hougang United chairman Bill Ng has also invested in the development of a new football data analytics program called RetinAR in a joint venture with local investors. The program, which will provide coaches with detailed statistics in live time during matches, is due to be deployed in May this year.

It will be intriguing to see on the field how this pioneering project provides a competitive advantage for Hougang United over other teams. The big challenge now, would be for Aw and his coaching team to be able to synthesise and make informed decisions using the data gathered in order to maximise the true potential of this system.

Setting an example for other clubs

For the 2017 season, Hougang United will adhere to a formal dress code. Players and staff will dress in suits at televised as well as away games. They will wear white shirts and black trousers for matches played at Hougang Stadium.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Hougang general manager Matthew Tay said: "We want to be more professional on and off the pitch. It can be as simple as how we look."

Under the forward thinking leadership of Bill Ng, Hougang United have created a self-sustainable model that does not rely solely on S.League subsidies, which amounts to $800,000 annually.

A concerted effort has been made to move away from the traditional model of clubhouse operations being their main source of revenue, with proprietary rights from football data analytics program RetinAR being transferred to Hougang as additional revenue stream.

Hougang United players in suits
(Photo credit: Hougang United Facebook page)

Aw, who has earned a reputation for his willingness to give young players a chance in the first team, will be their new head coach for this season as part of Hougang United’s long term vision to improve Singapore football.

In an interview with the TODAY newspaper, Aw said: “The current Hougang squad is a relatively young team, so that tells you that the club is also focused on developing promising players for Singapore.”

“So for me, if a player is good enough and has impressed in training, then we have to give him a chance.”

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“This is not going to change, so it’s possible that you’ll see some young, talented players feature for the team this season.”

It is clear that the leadership at Hougang United is putting in place the building blocks of long-term success with an ambitious plan that emphasises on youth development.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Hougang have taken theirs, and it certainly looks like they are on firm footing.