Could Lion City Sailors' Singapore title triumph be the birth of Asia's next superpower?

In their second year of existence, Lion City Sailors have been crowned champions of Singapore -- but can they conquer Asia next? Football Association of Singapore

From the moment Lion City Sailors were formed at the start of 2020, following a takeover of the now-defunct Home United by billionaire Forrest Li, expectations neared astronomic proportions as no expense was spared by the hierarchy of a club looking to assemble the next footballing superpower in Singapore -- and, to a wider extent, Asia.

On Sunday, the first objective of that mission was completed when the Sailors won the Singapore Premier League in dramatic fashion, as their 4-1 victory over Balestier Khalsa on the final day of the season saw them finish two points ahead of outgoing champions Albirex Niigata (S).

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The immediate aftermath of the title triumph should be one of celebration, and deservingly so with a long and arduous campaign ultimately culminating in success.

But given the ambition Lion City have already shown in their short history, it may not be overly surprising if they soon start looking to the future.

So could this be the start of something special, especially with a maiden appearance in the AFC Champions League -- Asia's premier club competition -- to come next season?

The biggest sign that their success can be sustained comes from the fact that Li has been fully invested in taking the club where none from Singapore have ventured before.

Even from day one back at the start of last year, Lion City issued a statement of intent by signing a host of established Singapore internationals such as Hassan Sunny, Shahdan Sulaiman and Gabriel Quak.

When immediate success did not arrive, with the club finishing third last term in a coronavirus-shortened season, the Sailors opted not to hit the panic button but instead invested further in areas which they believed could make them a stronger outfit in 2021.

Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes arrived for a domestic record transfer fee of S$3 million, while Singapore captain Hariss Harun followed midway through the campaign after being lured from Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta'zim.

And what happened when previous coach Aurelio Vidmar decided to leave for Thailand's BG Pathum United? The Sailors only went ahead to hand the reins to Kim Do-hoon, the man who led Ulsan Hyundai to AFC Champions League glory just last December.

There will be challenges on the horizon.

Lion City will have to deal with being the hunted rather than the hunters in 2022, with Albirex, Tampines Rovers and Hougang United all looming as genuine challengers.

Competing in the ACL will also be a different proposition altogether as Tampines found out this year when they lost all six of their group-stage matches, conceding 27 goals and scoring just one in the process.

Juggling their domestic and continental campaigns will also have a strain on the players and it remains to be seen if Lion City have the depth at present to compete on dual fronts, having avoided such a scenario this year with their participation in the second-tier AFC Cup annulled following the cancellation of the competition's ASEAN Zone.

These are all issues that will be addressed in due course. For now, the one thing that counts for the most is that Lion City are the newly-crowned champions of Singapore.

And, based on their recent history of breaking transfer records to buy a player and signing the title-winning coach from the entire continent, no expense will be spared moving forward in their quest to establish themselves among Asia's elite.