Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The Mixed Experiences Of Singaporeans Abroad

I'm a big fan of players and coaches getting out of their comfort zone and working in new environments. Alien sights and sounds, different perspectives may not always make you better at your job, they should, but they help you grow as a person. The world extends beyond your village and while the grass may not be greener at least you get to try different grass.

It is a big bee in my bonnet that not more try and sample life overseas and is something I have touched upon once or twice. Players like Fandi Ahmad and Bambang Pamungkas had the opportunity to try their luck in Europe but for one reason or another decided they wanted to ply their trade closer to home. Current Thai coach Kiatisuk was of a generation who sought self improvement overseas, in his case Singapore for a few years, and Thai football is benefiting from his pioneering experiences.

More recently we have seen Singaporeans in demand north of the causeway with Hariss Harun signing for Johor Darul Takzim and Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khazian turning out for Johor Darul Taksim II while Safuwan Bahruddin headed to PDRM. Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny has just returned from a two year spell with Army United while ex Young Lions, LionsXII and Tampines Rovers defender Hafiz Abu Sujad has made the journey north to play for second tier side BBCU. 

If we are honest with ourselves none of those teams are particularly glamourous. JDT II are what they say on the tin for example. Are they a team who can be promoted given then the potential for facing off against JDT in the top flight? Crowds are low in Malaysia's second tier and atmosphere at games much like what you might expect on the outer planets of our solar system but surely the benefits for Shahril and Bahaikki, beyond the financial, can only benefit Singapore football down the line?

They are part of a club that is laying down the foundations to be a regional powerhouse for years to come. Professionalism at all levels surely will rub off on these two experienced players and perhaps, should they ever consider a career in coaching, what they witnessed in the evolution of a super club can only hold them in good stead as well as looking good on their resumes.

Safuwan's situation is different. After having a positive loan spell with Melbourne City in the ALeague he elected to join Malaysian side PDRM for the rest of the 2016 season. Quite why the versatile goal scoring defender/midfielder would opt for the Malaysian police force side, no disrespect intended, is beyond me. Were there no better offers on the table? That he should extend his stay for 2017 is equally baffling. Perhaps his status, he remains under contract to the Football Association of Singapore, effected how other clubs viewed him.

His strong performances weren't enough to save the Cops and he will now play in the second tier watched by even smaller crowds than would have seen the PDRM games last season. There was talk of Kedah taking an interest but that fizzled out. But where were the Thai or Indonesian teams for this most consistent of performers? Is the contract with FAS a millstone round his neck? Honestly, I don't know but it is frustrating to see such a fine player not getting the stage his talents deserve. From Melbourne City to PDRM?

The intimidating atmosphere at a Chula United game
Now we have Hafiz Abu Sujad beginning a Thai adventure. Once upon a time Sinthana were one of the biggest Thai teams. back in the days before political types got involved. They won the league in 1998 and went on to compete in the Asian Champions League. But they struggled to survive as an entity and merged with a university to become Chula Sinthana just as money flowed into the game with the arrival of Muang Thong United and Buriram United.

Apart from a couple of spells in the Premier League, including when they played at the Rajamangala Stadium in front of crowds of less than 1000, they have found their niche as a yo yo side and last season finished bottom of the top flight after just one season. Hafiz, like Safuwan, is joining a side that has just got relegated.

For all the sycophancy that gets thrown at the Thai league the strength does not extend beyond perhaps half a dozen clubs. BBCU will be playing against the likes of Air Force Central, Army United and PTT Rayong. It is almost as if Thai football stopped in the 1990s. For Hafiz, an international, it seems a strange move. But an understandable one when you consider his cousin is none other than Fandi. Perhaps to play overseas is part of his football DNA. But aged 26, he should be at the peak of his career, is a move from Tampines where the dreams are of the SLeague and the AFC Cup, is a move to a second tier team in Thailand a step forward career wise?

Last but not least we have the curious tale of Hariss Harun. This guy was marked down as one for the future years back and after impressing for LionsXII it was no surprise when he signed for JDT, turning down a move to Portugal. He has impressed with JDT and signed a two year deal back in November 2015. Now, however, it appears to be over. A week or so before Christmas JDT announced Hariss was surplus to requirements and they were actively seeking to send him out on loan with Portugal and Japan possible destinations. That particular story has gone quiet and with just over a week to the start of the new season it appears Hariss is still with the Malaysian side.

Whatever the merits of Hafiz move to unfancied BBCU he will certainly find out quite a bit about himself over the next few months. At least he can pick the brain of Hassan Sunny for tips about living in Bangkok. 

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