Mention the name Lee Lim Saeng, and it will probably irk many players who had gone under his charge during his short tenure in Singapore. But what make things interesting is that the former Korean World Cupper seems to be putting the jigsaw puzzle together pretty smartly and has, to some extent, achieved the results he wanted.
Lee’s Home United are perched atop the Great Eastern-Yeo’s S-League ladder after six rounds of games, this despite losing defensive lynchpin Valery Hiek to Thai Premier League side Bangkok Glass United Football Club. And the Protectors have maintained their own unbeaten start to the new season to boot.
Players were frozen out on many occasions in the last couple of seasons by the former South Korean International and many others have come and gone. Lee has seemingly carried the principle – if a player does not meet the standard that he has set, out they go. It may seem harsh to many when Lee hauls off a substitute that he had just thrown into the fray minutes ago, but Lee has continued with this approach this season.
Never mind the defeat to Tampines Rovers on the second last day of the 2011 season that eventually ensured that Lee would have to wait another year to have a shot at S-League glory. Patience and tinkering and a ruthless adherence to his standards seemed to have allowed Lee to coax the best out of his current crop of players, and they now are in real contention for the S-League title.
Home have picked up the pace after a slow start (three successive draws) to the new season, winning their last three games and scoring a whopping 13 goals in the process. Lee’s charges have already brushed aside title-chasing Albirex Niigata (S) last week, but the real test of Home’s title credentials will come in the next two weeks. They face Tampines, Harimau Muda and Brunei’s DPMM within their next three fixtures.
Skipper Shi Jiayi has been deployed in virtually every outfield position, stopping short of replacing Lionel Lewis in the Home goal. Shi has settled into his latest role, alongside Kenji Arai in the heart of the team’s four-man defensive line with Nor Azli Yusof at right-back and Jeremy Chiang on the left. Lee must be pleased about Shi’s versatility across the pitch and he will look to his talismanic skipper to shut out opposition forwards this time.
In Shotaro Ihata, Lee has one of the top finishers in the region. Lee’s task will be to bring the best out of Ihata who bagged 22 goals in Albriex’s colors last year. Ihata already has seven goals to his name this term and currently tops the scorers’ chart, three ahead of his nearest rivals for the golden boot. In what will be pleasing for Home fans and a happy headache for Lee, the duo hot on the heels of Ihata on the goalscorers’ charts are his teammates, Qiu Li and Frederic Mendy.
It is always difficult to have a team full of stars, but Lee has found the right formula in keeping all his players happy. It is never easy to have an ever-vocal John Wilkinson in a team, given his reputation for being “straight and to the point” but Lee seems to have everything in check.
There is plenty of firepower in this Home side, and it will be a challenge for Lee to consistently draw the best out of his attacking quartet – the top-scoring trio along with former Singapore skipper Indra Sahdan. Qiu, Ihata and Mendy account for 15 of the 17 goals scored by the Protectors this term, and Lee has to be given some credit for this amazing feat by his attackers. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before Indra feels pressure from his strike partners, and starts to bang in goals like he used to for fun in his heyday.
There were rumors of a rift between Lee and his management team over transfer decisions earlier in the year but all that seems to be water under the bridge now. Whatever it is, Home fans are counting on Lee to deliver the club’s first S-League title since 2003. It may be too early to say this, but they certainly look like a good bet.
He is no messiah, at least not yet. But he is Lee Lim Saeng, remember that name.