Australian Blake Ricciuto has scored his eighth goal in 14 games as the defensive midfielder signed from the NSW NPL blitzes the Singapore Premier League with the ladder-leaders Brunei DPMM.
In his first season in the Singapore league, the 26-year-old former Rockdale Suns midfielder was on the scoresheet again on the weekend.
The Aussie drove home a low volley against Warriors to extend his side’s lead to 3-1.
But Brunei was left with 10 men after a red card and hung on for a point in a 3-3 draw, cutting their lead at the top to just a point.
Ricciuto has been a smash in the league, after coming in from the semi-pro NPL in Sydney.
He earned the accolades with a player of the month award for April and one of his long-range goals was voted most popular by fans.
Three of his eight goals have been from range and with his fitness, the Aussie is proving a hit as a box-to-box role midfielder.
And impressively for a deep-lying mid in a 3-5-2, he is now joint-second on the goalscorers charts in the Singapore Premier League.
The question is: how did the A-League not see this talent?
Ricciuto spent three years in the NPL before his move to Asia at the start of 2019, and barely registered on A-League scouting reports.
Not that Ricciuto is worried.
“Working as a professional has been amazing for my career. Each day I’m able to work on my finishing, my fitness, and my overall game to become a better player,” Ricciuto told FTBL today from Singapore.
“Whereas when I was in the NPL, I didn’t get the chance to train full time.
"And in the NPL back home there are lots of players working so hard to get their chance in the professional game.
“A-League clubs might not want to take a risk, but it’s not much of a risk to bring in an NPL player. Economics is not an issue and you know they’ll give it their all.
“It didn’t happen for me in the A-League back home, but there’s no other place I’d rather be and I’m loving life as a professional here."
Ricciuto played in the NPL NSW. NPL Victoria star Liam Boland - who is also around the top of the scorers charts - told FTBL last week about the difficulties of NPL players combining work and football.
“You’ve got to find motivation within. And it’s tough for young players with aspirations trying to get noticed when you’ve worked all day,” the Avondale striker said.
Similarly, former A-League star and now Dandenong City striker Brendon Santalab told FTBL of his admiration for NPL players in Australia.
“I take my hat off to NPL players. My teammates who come off job sites and wake up at ridiculous hours in the morning to go to work, and work their backside off all day and come to training in the cold and still give the 100% effort.”
Ricciuto’s form has even alerted Uruguayan media, with the former Penarol player - who has Uruguayan heritage - speaking on Uruguayan radio recently about his career resurgence in south-east Asia.
Ricciuto added: “The gaffer wants me to get a little more forward, even though I’m in a defensive role in a 3-5-2 formation playing deep.
“I look to get my shots on target. And I get forward and back.”
The blond midfielder played at Penarol in 2014/15 before returning to Australia’s semi-pro NPL with the Suns.
After he earned a trial with the Brunei club at the start of 2019, Ricciuto was signed and has been an instant sensation.
Ricciuto, however, picked up his fourth yellow card on the weekend, which will see him miss his club’s next match.
He added: “My main aim now is to try and win the championship. We’re one point ahead, we probably dropped two points against Warriors but we’re still top of the table."