SINGAPORE – Maxime Lestienne has been in blazing form in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), but not quite as hot as the local climate that often leaves the Lion City Sailors winger red in the face.

“I love it, but only outside of football,” he said on Thursday (Aug 18). “During the game I hate the heat and humidity. The way I play, I sprint a lot and it actually becomes a little hard to breathe when it’s too hot or humid.

“I’ve started to adapt, but at every game it feels like I’ve given everything that my body can give – and I end up looking like a tomato!”

The Sailors, who lead second-placed Albirex Niigata by three points, face third-placed Tanjong Pagar on Saturday and will be counting on more dazzling displays from Lestienne.

The Belgian, 30, has set the league alight this year with eight goals and 17 assists in about 1,600 minutes of play, or a goal involvement every 45 minutes.

In their last game – a 10-1 hammering of the Young Lions – he scored and assisted in the same game for the seventh time this season, an SPL record since the league was rebranded in 2018 and stats began being tabulated.

The winger, who signed from Standard Liege in early February but started his first game for the Sailors only in April, explained he was happy to bide his time, as he was short on match fitness.

His last start for Standard was in early December and he needed time to adapt to the climate here.

Lestienne’s quality is clear. He has been capped at all youth levels for his country and received several call-ups to the national team as recently as 2019 but has yet to win a senior cap. At Dutch club PSV, he also played in the Champions League and featured against the likes of Atletico Madrid and Manchester United.

This year, however, he took a leap of faith and left Europe for the first time in his career. He revealed he had an offer from a club in Saudi Arabia, but joined the Sailors on a two-year deal because he was impressed by the club’s “ambitious long-term vision”, as well as the draw of Singapore being a “brilliant” place for his family.

“That made me decide – with certainty – that I want to be at the heart of this project and help the Sailors achieve our vision of becoming one of Asia’s top clubs…. And it has turned out to be a fantastic experience for my family and I,” he said.

He admitted knowing “next to nothing” about Singapore football, and candidly said he expected the level of football to be low.

“But when I came here I was shocked, and pleasantly so,” he said. “I was really impressed by the technical level and endurance of several of the players in our team. It was clear we have a good team, and they were all warm and welcoming, making my adaptation to Singapore football very easy.”

Last modified: August 18, 2022