As promised, Grilled Birds wouldn't wait long for their Romijn replacement, as Hovaness Noubaryan
unveiled local winger Heng Dong Chu
not long after the league match. The fee came to an astonishing record S$16.8 million, topping the existing mark of S$16.3 million for starting goalkeeper Massoud Dob
, which remarkably is also the first time this record has been held by a Singaporean since Grilled's very first signing of custodian Hang Bao-Tam.
Canadian forward Joe Stern took over the record from Hang within three seasons with his S$900000 move, and the bar was swiftly raised, as club legend Ola Martinsson cost S$9.2 million just two seasons further on, which would then be eclipsed by Jan Langeland, Hidde van Liere and Ahmed Abed-Sulaiman, the latter two who remain joint-fourth in the incoming transfer stakes today, at S$13.9 million apiece. It then took 43 more seasons before this level would be breached by Dob.
urged the press and public to look past the pricetag. "It wasn't a major consideration. We were after a top-class winger who could improve the team, and in today's inflationary financial landscape, the price isn't even exceptional. Our scouts also recommended former youth internationals in Lebanon's Ibrahim Salloum and Liechtenstein's Maximilian Büchel, but when we caught wind that Heng was available, it was mostly a question if an equitable deal could be struck."
Heng, of course, had been the darling of City stalwarts Marina Sailors, who had been competing at least at the second division level, in the eight seasons he had enjoyed with them; this included two Division Two titles, and a stint in the S-League. Oft deployed as an inside left midfielder interchanging with Malcolm Chun in their latest championship-winning campaign two years back, Heng had been touted as the natural successor to homegrown national stars Tan Teck Tze and MJ Thomas, and it came as a massive shock when he announced his departure to Italian VI.742 side a.c. Pirati.
It had never been confirmed whether Sailors needed the considerable funds to further their ambitions, or if Heng had simply wanted a change of scenery, but Noubaryan maintained that it no longer mattered. "All we have to know is that Heng is one of the premier wingers of his generation, and that he's one of our own now. He unlocks plenty of options, being uncommonly strong in the air for a wide player, alongside excellent dribbling skills. We will have to figure out how to get the best out of him, but fortunately, we have the time."
"It's also true that Grilled's most successful teams have had a strong Singaporean core, and with Heng, we are looking to replicate that to an extent. That said, the best player for a match will start regardless of nationality, that won't change."
As for the birthday signing, the 25 year-old Heng had certainly been brushing up on his Grilled Birds history, as he selected the Number 15 jersey last donned by two of Grilled's longest-serving local players, Han Lik-Tsun and Ling Fuquan. The number had been unclaimed since Ling's departure some ten seasons ago, and Heng felt it time to give it a new lease of life.
"Grilled are a club with a very long and proud legacy." he said. "Growing up, it was hard not to hear about great players like Tian Yonghang
and Mohd Safri, and Low Aik Jia had been one of my favourite role models, as a winger. I can't say that I'm of his style nowadays, but I hope to contribute in my own fashion."