Singapore Premier League • May 1, 2019

Blake Ricciuto enjoying life at DPMM as he spearheads title charge

Credit A•K•K Design

SINGAPORE, 1 MAY 2019 – If Brunei DPMM go on and win the Singapore Premier League (SPL) this season, their midfielder Blake Ricciuto will likely have played a key role.

The 26-year-old opened the scoring on Sunday night in a top-of-table clash against Hougang United, before proceeding to salute the fans in what is becoming a familiar post-goal celebration at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium.

That strike helped DPMM to a 3-2 victory, which was well-earned after a brief comeback from the Cheetahs saw them take a 2-1 lead. Ricciuto and his teammates dug deep, however – Andrei Varankou smashed in a penalty and then Hendra Azam’s 93rd-minute free-kick sealed a dramatic win that sent them five points clear.

“It was such a difficult game and we put ourselves into trouble through our own mistakes,” Ricciuto told the official SPL website.

“Credit to the boys (though), they showed a lot of heart to get back into the game with half an hour left, kept knocking on Hougang’s doors before winning it with the last kick of the game.”

The result left the visitors crestfallen. “No one was talking in the dressing room after the game; not even way after dinner,” head coach Clement Teo said. “It shows that they (the team) felt the sucker punch.”

The bright side is that there are still two more rounds for Hougang to make up ground. “It was one of those days where you play well but things just don’t go your way,” Teo said. “I don’t know if it’s right to say there’s the element of luck, but it happens in sports and credit to DPMM for showing great determination. We just have to learn quickly from this.”

His counterpart, Adrian Pennock, chose to preach caution. “I still think everyone can beat each other on their day,” he said. “We are in a good position with this five-point gap but are under no illusions it will still be difficult.”

Luck or not, Ricciuto could not care less after a sparkling start to life with DPMM. With five goals and one assist, he has been one of the standout players so far, though he played down the plaudits.

“The whole team has been working hard – four of my goals this season are practically down to good deliveries in the box and I just happened to be at the end of them,” he said.

Pennock will tell you that Ricciuto’s impact extends beyond the pitch, noting that both him and centre-back Charlie Clough constantly encourage and guide their Bruneian team-mates.

“They certainly look up to the two of them,” he said. “I’m not surprised by Blake’s performances so far. His energy is fantastic, he runs and runs and runs… he’s physically strong and does lots of work off the ball. He always plays the game in the right way and always has a smile on his face during training; long may his form continue for us!”

The Australian’s exploits have not gone unnoticed. Renowned Australian football site FTBL runs regular updates on him while Ricciuto – whose father is Uruguayan – was recently on Uruguayan radio to speak about the latest chapter of his football career.

In his new home, Ricciuto’s eye-catching mane of wild blonde hair makes him hard to miss. “Even before I signed, people often turned around to look at my hair,” he said. “Now I’ve played a few games, people come up to me to ask about DPMM and take photographs!”

One fan likened his hairdo to mee goreng, a local noodle dish. “It’s all in good nature; the Bruneian people have been really nice and I’m really enjoying myself here so far,” he added.

Ricciuto’s move to DPMM came after three hugely successful years with Rockdale City Suns in the semi-pro National Premier League (NPL) NSW (New South Wales), where he was voted as the club’s Player of the Year twice and selected once in the NPL’s Team of the Year.

A burning desire to return to professional football saw Ricciuto draw on his video-editing skills to produce a personal highlights reel and that paid dividends.

“I sent it to a couple of agents and one of them got back to me on a trial in Brunei and I was lucky enough to get offered a contract,” said Ricciuto, who also coached kids with Sydney FC’s community department while training four times a week with the Suns. 

“Obviously, I didn’t know what to expect so I just did some research before coming here. I just felt it was the right time for me to look abroad, test myself in a different league and experience a different culture.” 

Ricciuto has already been to the other side of the globe, having left home at 21 to join Uruguayan top-flight side Penarol – the club he supported as a child – in 2014.

He featured mainly for the club’s reserves under the tutelage of national legend Paolo Montero that year before leaving for second-division side Canadian SC the following year, where their promotion bid ended in the play-offs.

Ricciuto returned to Australia in late 2015, where an unsuccessful three-month trial with Sydney led to him spending the next few years in semi-pro.

“They had a strong team,” he said. “The coach then, Graham Arnold, told me ‘the only reason you’re not a Sydney FC player is because we have too many midfielders’. He said I could play for any club in the A-League once I get more game time and exposure.”

One gets the feeling that Ricciuto will yearn for a more prestigious opportunity elsewhere sooner or later. However, he has already targeted an extended stay with DPMM as he eyes the first league title of his career.

“I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now, so I’m just trying to enjoy the present and not look too far to the future,” he said. “At the moment, I want to stay in Brunei and hopefully, extend (my contract by) another year.

“It’s been a great start to the season, but it’s still a long way to go and the players need to keep working hard…. We are all aiming for the main objective – to lift the SPL trophy at the end of the season.”

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