Lion City Sailors smash SPL transfer record by signing Brazilian Diego Lopes for $3m

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·3-min read
Lion City Sailors' new signing Diego Lopes (right). (PHOTO: Facebook)
Lion City Sailors' new signing Diego Lopes (right). (PHOTO: Facebook)

SINGAPORE — The Lion City Sailors – the first privatised football club in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) – have broken the league’s transfer record in signing Brazilian midfielder Diego Lopes for €1.8 million (S$3 million) from top-flight Portuguese club Rio Ave.

The club said in a media release on Wednesday (20 January) that Lopes, 26, will join on a three-year contract. He had come through from the youth system of Portuguese giants Benfica, and has established himself as creative playmaker with an eye for goals in the Primeira Liga.

He had previously played professionally in Turkey and Greece, and has helped Rio Ave finish fifth last season to qualify for the Europa League qualifiers.

“I am delighted to join the Lion City Sailors’ ambitious project to become one of the top teams in Asia,” Lopes said. “It was not an easy decision for me to leave Rio Ave and the Portuguese league, and I thank the fans for their support throughout the years that I was at the club.

“I felt like the time was right for a new challenge in my career, and this opportunity afforded to me by the Sailors was one I could not turn down, and I look forward to being part of a team that consistently challenges for honours not only in Singapore, but also in Asian competitions.”

This is the first time an SPL club have paid a multi-million transfer fee for a player from a top European team. The previous transfer record for an SPL club was $50,000, paid by Hougang United to Tampines Rovers from former Singapore international Fazrul Nawaz in 2018.

Lopes will be joining a Lion City Sailors squad already brimming with talents such as reigning SPL Player of the Year Gabriel Quak, league top scorer Stipe Plazibat, 2019 Player of the Year Faris Ramli, as well as Shahdan Sulaiman and Song Ui-yong. They finished third in the 2020 SPL season.

Veteran Brazilian defender also joins Sailors

Besides Lopes, the Sailors – owned by homegrown internet company Sea founder Forrest Li – also signed another Brazilian, 32-year-old defender Jorge Fellipe, from second-tier Saudi Arabian side Al-Tai on a one-year deal.

The veteran has played in Brazil and Portugal before his current stint in the Middle East, and should provide steel and experience in the Sailors’ backline.

“Having played in many different leagues, and faced different styles of football in my career, I’m intrigued and excited at the prospect of testing myself in this part of the world, especially at a club that wants to break new ground,” Fellipe said in the media release.

“I look forward to linking up with my new teammates soon. I’ve watched some clips of how the team plays, and I believe that I’ll be able to slot in perfectly with them.”

The Sailors said the decision to acquire the two players was made after an extensive search for the right foreign signings to strengthen the Sailors.

“We had very specific characteristics for the sort of players we wanted,” said head coach Aurelio Vidmar. “We wanted top-quality players with excellent technical ability, and who were comfortable with playing a possession-based game.

“Both Lopes and Fellipe fit the bill perfectly, and that is why the club has decided to invest in them. It is a clear sign of how serious the club is in getting to the top, and we are glad to welcome both players to the team.”

Fellipe arrived in Singapore last week, and is serving a 14-day quarantine. Lopes, who has already completed his medical, is in Portugal waiting for his employment pass to be approved.

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