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Shawal's replacement under our noses the whole time

Submitted by: Clovis | 15th November 2023

When we lost all our creativity through former No.10 Shawal Anuar, it was hard to tell whether we'd be able to keep ourselves afloat. With 14 goals and 10 assists in 2022, Shawal contributing to almost a third of our goals that year and it was going to be a difficult task to keep him onboard for 2023 given his prolific season in a struggling Hougang side.

To put into perspective of how incredible his performances were, he was the 9th joint top scorer of the league ahead of the likes of Tadanari Lee, Diego Lopes, Ryoya Taniguchi, and Vincent Bezecourt. He was the 4th joint local top scorer tied with Sailors' Gabriel Quak and only behind Ilhan Fandi, Song Ui-young, and Taufik Suparno.

Top scorers in Singapore Premier League 2022

Let me remind you that Ilhan was striving under incredible management at Albirex, Song received plenty of service at the Sailors, and Taufik had Boris Kopitovic, Kyoga Nakamura, and Yasir Hanapi supplying him. They played in desirable conditions compared to Shawal who was in a struggling Hougang side for a good half of the season. In fact, when we struggled for form in the first round, he managed to supply 1 goal and 2 assists in what was seen as a horrible start coming off the 2021 season.

With performances like this, it was certain that clubs would come knocking and when the Sailors came asking for his signature, it was a near impossible task to match the wages they were going to offer him. Fast forward to the end of 2023, Shawal has eclipsed that prolific season with 13 goals and 7 assists in 27 games and he wasn't even a regular starter at LCS. He played only 1404 minutes out of a possible 2700 (including the 3 games he missed), just barely over a half of possible minutes played. This meant that he's currently averaging a goal contribution every 70.2 minutes! To put it in laymen terms, if Shawal started every game and completed every 90 minutes he would scoring in every game. If you want to count his games for the national team, that's 18 goals and 7 assists in 32 or a goal contribution ever 67.08 minutes.

Here comes the obvious question: If we had just lost our best player in the 2022 season, surely we'd hurriedly find a replacement, right?

I wish I could say yes if it wasn't for our poor scouting.

new signings not performing

We had a plethora of signings for the 2023 season. A transfer window where we saw several Singapore internationals come into the side. Two of which played on the wings and they came in the form of Sailor's cult hero Gabriel Quak, and Geylang's Hazzuwan Halim.

Like Shawal this year, Gabriel had limited minutes in 2022 yet managed 16 goal contributions in just 1262 minutes (a goal contribution every 78.875 minutes) while Hazzuwan managed 12 goal contributions in 1962 minutes (a goal contribution every 163.5 minutes).

Gabriel Quak's numbers

Gabriel's 2022 numbers

Hazzuwan Halim's numbers

Hazzuwan's 2022 numbers

Hence it wouldn't be so surprising when many fans were thrilled to have them onboard when they were putting up decent numbers last year, it'd mean they would replicate those scores in a debatably stronger Hougang side, right? Wrong.

Gabriel's numbers dropped to only 10 goal contributions in 26 games while Hazzuwan's numbers halved to 6 goal contributions in 26 too. Will I say I was surprised though? Frankly, no. And here's why.

While it's easy to say that Gabriel and/or Hazzuwan were going to be Shawal's replacements, it's more complicated than that. The way the three players play are completely different. Shawal is a very technical player, he's plentiful with flair and his speed and agility makes dribbling an easy task for him. His touches on the ball was better'd by none and his vision of the game was elite. But the skill that sets him apart from the rest was his game IQ. To quickly showcase and example, here's one of his best plays that was quite simple but also shows how far ahead he reads the game.

Zulfahmi underhits his pass

Zulfahmi Arifin's ball for Shawal was slightly underhit.

Shawal reads the play well vs Jun Kobayashi

Jun Kobayashi attempts to head it back to a teammate but Shawal reads his play.

Shawal uses the momentum of the ball to score

Shawal gets infront of the ball and promptly scores.

Unfortunately, Hazzuwan nor Gabriel (at least for this year onwards) has the same skillset to offer as Shawal does. We have seen so many times this season where Gabriel takes on his man perfectly and has a chance to either shoot or pass but he always picks the wrong option or takes too long to make a decision. When he can shoot, he squares it and loses the ball and when he can pass it, he shoots and misses.

As for Hazzuwan, he just isn't as flairy as Shawal. He isn't a technical player but at the same time he is. He isn't the playmaker and he wasn't intended to even at Geylang and perhaps Balestier. He was just your traditional winger who plays on his own flank. He's also been caught offside countless of times this season from his poor timing of runs, something very contrasting to Shawal's game.

Don't get me wrong, they're brilliant players in their own way but it's clear that the scouting had gone wrong when it came to finding a replacement. So what about our current players? What about Amy Recha and Kristijan Krajcek?

Amy has the same issue as Hazzuwan, he's a traditional winger. At Geylang, he's usually the serviced and not the servicer, coming off the left flank to cut inside or cross it in. It doesn't help much that he doesn't play in his natural position half the time as Marko deemed him fit to play upfront. His 7 goals in 27 games this season doesn't spark much inspiration (especially when half his goals came from one game against DPMM). In fact, he seems extremely gassed whenever he plays the full 90, something Marko probably realized when he started leaving Amy on the bench up until the last segment of the game when a new burst of energy is needed.

Amy Recha's numbers

Amy's 2023 numbers

So what about Krajcek? He's the closest we got to a Shawal replacement, right? Yes.

And no.

While it's tempting to call it a day and label Kiki as our successor to Shawal with his 47 goal contributions in 56 games, we need to consider one daunting fact - Zulfahmi's departure. With the departure of our former captain, it means our midfield is getting weaker and with Shahdan and Irwan being total duds lately, I wouldn't be surprised if Marko puts Krajcek back into the heart of midfield for more security.

Kristijan Kracjek's numbers

Krajcek's Hougang numbers

And it doesn't look like he has a preferred position either. He has an 87% goal contribution rate at either flanks and a 90% goal contribution rate in midfield. While he has been more prolific on the wings, let's recall that it wasn't even his primary position at Balestier and I'd say his resurgence on the wing was a result of lack of quality on the sides and more security in the midfield. But now that Zulfahmi has left, Krajcek may slip back down into midfield.


So who do I reckon is our best bet for Shawal's replacement?

The answer you might not expect

Nazrul Nazri.

This might sound super out of reach for most, but many in the Hougang fraternity have come to some sort of agreement that Nazrul has what it takes to fill in the boots Shawal left. According to Transfermarkt, Nazrul has played on the right wing 19 times and contributed to 9 goals and in a season where this experiment has been tried and tested more, he has 5 goal contributions in 8 showings at right wing!

Nazrul Nazari's numbers

Nazrul's numbers as a right winger.

And I'm not just speaking out of my ass, Nazrul does have a lot of the qualities Shawal has. He's pacy, agile, he has a good touch and a good cross, and his game IQ is decently high as we can see from how he catches this Haiphong defender off of his blindside for our equalizer against Haiphong.

Nazrul reads the play fast to release Djorje Maksimovic for the first goal against Haiphong

Nazrul's quick thinking leading to our equalizer vs Haiphong.

It's worked decently well this season, especially with his Man of the Match performance against Balestier where he supplied two assists from right-wing, it needs to be an experiment that's tried again.


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Nov 15, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

So entertaining to read! Great stats too

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