Banquet Of Also-Rans
Although all the Grilled clubs had enjoyed decent seasons by most reckonings, with Bunnies finishing second and the Birds and International third, none of the above seemed particularly satisfied by these achievements at the season-end dinner - as it should be.
Grilled Birds head coach Djan Bacelar
went as far as to drop hints that he might have to leave in the not-too-distant future, but the board less than delighted at his returns thus far. Such talk soon gave way to happier moments, though, as the eagerly-awaited player awards were announced.
Unlike many previous seasons, there was no obvious candidate for the Birds' Player of the Year, though last season's winner Cyril Künzler
, his compatriot on the wing Florus Romijn
as well as local rising stars Moey Xin Seng
and Chan Ze Han
all managed some support. The eventual honoree wound up to be 28 year-old Yuta Nakakita
, for excelling both in defence and midfield - and scoring about as much as any Birds forward to boot.
Yuta had picked up the Young Player version as a Chicken Wings trainee eleven seasons ago to boot, before immediately leaving for Turkey and turning pro. As for this year, Chan was the obvious pick for a three-peat, but the judges would select Wings goalkeeper Sng Kang Leng instead, in a shock decision.
The 16 year-old Sng was clearly nonplussed, but he recovered quickly, and dedicated the prize to his teammates. "Especially the defenders; I wouldn't have looked half as good, without them!"
There was a repeat in store for Bunnies wingback Kwek Yun Jie
, who was a clear favourite after maintaining his spurts of man-of-the-match performances, while further impressing for the national team. His old buddy Tham Leng Teck
, the ever-reliable Enzo Paolo Panzarino
and popular newcomer Jon Benson
made up the other choices, in about that order.
It was a tougher pick for the Young Player gong, with goalkeeper Hrishikesh Kumar and winger Weston Lam having compiled fine resumes, but it was Rabbits Number Fifteen Lim Ming Chun who earned the accolade with a tantalizing mix of hidden promise and dazzling performances.
"He's one of the top wingers I've seen, in his age group." Ooi Long Ming, who recruited Lim, noted. "I have absolutely no idea how Soon Soon let this one past them!"
For Grilled International, there was never any question who would be their Player of the Season, with just one name on everybody's lips: Micky bin Kadir
. Sixteen goals from fifteen starts represented a breakout season for the brawny striker, who has carried his form over to the postseason.
"Nobody tried to bet on this one!" head coach Tajit bin Mohd
It was a very crowded field indeed for the Youth Player of the Season title, as Tajit acknowledged, with numerous worthy winners from both the main squad and the Busy Bees. The honour ultimately fell to 18 year-old Wang Hanxuan
, whose hat-trick in the league finale might have swayed opinions in his favour.
Wang won't be resting on these laurels, of course. "Honestly, I didn't expect this at all, and I'm not even sure I deserve it. I just want to keep playing well."