News Singapore Premier League • January 21, 2021
Lion City Sailors sign Diego Lopes for S$3m from Rio Ave
Diego Lopes wore the number 10 for Portuguese top-flight side Rio Ave (Photo: Rio Ave Facebook)
SINGAPORE, 21 JANUARY 2021 – The Lion City Sailors have made a huge splash in local football by sealing the transfer of midfielder Diego Lopes for an estimated 1.8 million euros (S$2.89 million).
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The Brazilian, who turns 27 in May, joins from Portuguese top-flight side Rio Ave and becomes the first ever multi-million dollar signing in Singapore Premier League (SPL) history. Lopes, who wore number 10 on his jersey for Rio Ave and can play anywhere across midfield, has signed a three-year contract.
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Lopes said in a club statement: “I am delighted to join the Lion City Sailors’ ambitious project to become one of the top teams in Asia. It was not an easy decision for me to leave Rio Ave and the Portuguese league.
“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.”
The signing represents a coup for the Sailors, who have made waves since becoming the first ever local football team to be privatised at the start of 2020. A key player for Rio Ave last season, the São Paulo native registered five goals and seven assists in 36 appearances as the club finished fifth in the Primeira Liga and qualified for the Europa League second qualifying round. That equalled the Vilacondenses‘ best-ever league finish, which they also achieved in 1981/82 and 2017/18.
Lopes, who began his career with a short stint in the youth ranks of Brazilian giants Palmeiras, moved to Portugal in 2008 to join the academy of two-time European champions Benfica. At 18, he joined Rio Ave on loan before making a permanent transfer a year later. He rejoined Benfica in 2015 but did not turn out for them and instead went on loan to Turkey’s Kayserispor (2015/16), Brazil’s América Mineiro (2016) and Greece’s Panetolikos (2016 to 2018). Lopes returned to Rio Ave in January 2018 and leaves them after making 201 appearances and scoring 25 goals in all competitions.
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In a club statement, Rio Ave said: “Diego Lopes’ story is intertwined with that of Rio Ave FC and the role of this young Brazilian midfielder in the Club’s growth and in its national and European affirmation of the last decade will never be dissociated… President António da Silva Campos expressed sadness to see such a talented player leave, who always represented the Rioavista jersey with great dignity. Rio Ave FC wishes the athlete the greatest success in this new cycle, and Diego Lopes will always be part of the rioavista family and the history of our emblem.”
The Sailors also confirmed the arrival of centre-back Jorge Fellipe, 32, from Saudi Arabian second-tier side Al-Tai FC. The 1.9-metre Brazilian has spent time in the lower leagues of Brazil and Portugal, turning out for a remarkable 14 different clubs and is described by the Sailors as “calm and assured under pressure”.
Having finished third in their maiden season and qualified for the AFC Cup, the Sailors will now be fancied to lift the SPL title this year as they also gun for glory on a continental basis.
Head coach Aurelio Vidmar said in a club statement: “We had very specific characteristics for the sort of players we wanted… excellent technical ability, and who are 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.”