Singapore football: the need to move abroad (2/2)

Hariss Harun is definitely a story of a missed opportunity so far. Having debuted for the national team at 16 years old, the youngest ever so far, and being awarded Most Valuable Player during a week’s training stint at Barcelona’s La Masia, he surely should have moved abroad before he hit his twenties. Instead, he went on to be S-League’s Young Player of the Year and play for the LionsXII. It is still not too late though. At 22 years of age, he has the ability to succeed in Europe; maybe not the premier leagues, but instead the second-rate leagues of Scandinavia or Belgium would be a good place to start. The healthy surroundings compared to Eastern Europe, and away from the media spotlight would allow him to further his development. A mid-table team in any of Scandinavia’s or Belgium’s top-flight, or if he is ambitious and offers are on the table, maybe even mid-table teams of German or Dutch second-tier teams. Being finally out of his comfort zone in a foreign country, having to adapt to foreign cultures and most importantly climate, not being an automatic starter anymore, he would not only have to fight for his spot like everyone else, but he would build up his mental resolve and adaptability. Learning better ways of football via different strategies and tactics, he could impart these knowledge and experiences on his team-mates on national duty. Already the vice-captain of LionsXII and the national team, he is most likely to be the next captain of Singapore, but he has to go now, or he will never realize his full potential. Imagine what a top midfielder in Singapore’s national side could do for their standard of football and competitiveness. And of course, it will allow back-ups Izzdin Shafiq or Aqilah Abdullah to step up in the LionsXII midfield.

maybe a year too soon

Custodian Izwan Mahbud got his chance in the national team, when first and second choice goalkeepers Lionel Lewis and Hassan Sunny were out injured during a crunch second-round World Cup qualifier against bitter causeway rivals Malaysia, and has since never looked back, being the undisputed number one for club and country. A move abroad would give this hugely talented goalkeeper a greater chance of fulfilling his immense potential, and further refine his goalkeeping abilities as well as boost his confidence in goal. The types of clubs Harun is looking to move to in Europe may be a step too far for Mahbud at the moment, but the likes of Major League Soccer (MLS) in America or clubs in Australia and Japan, could be more realistic choices for him. Having to face larger and faster strikers on a more consistent basis, as well as having to deal with more powerful and accurate shots, his reflexes and mental tenacity will be severely tested, which can only make him a better goalkeeper for Singapore. He is, mentally, probably the best candidate to succeed overseas and if it comes to fruition in the next two to three years, he will almost cement his number one spot in the national side for the next decade to 15 years.

From appearing for the Courts Young Lions last year, to MSL glory with the LionsXII this year, why not try football abroad next season? Shahfiq Ghani may be slender and small in stature, but he more than makes up for this with his wicked left foot and great movement and mobility. His eye for goal and finishing ability makes him a heck of a striker, but Ghani can also play behind the striker with his excellent vision and passing range. He is not afraid of dropping deep to receive the ball. He definitely has the technical ability to match his European counter-parts, but does he have the mental psyche and determination to improve and succeed? Only with a move abroad, throwing him out of his comfort zone would we know. A move like Swandi’s, spending a year at a second-rate European club’s academy or reserve team, or more ambitiously at a top German or Spain club’s B team, would severely test his mental resolve and find out if he has what it takes to earn a long-term contract in Europe. If he leaves, though unlikely, it will open up a space for other youngsters like Iqbal Hussein could step up and hopefully shine like how Ghani did this season.

core of singapore, not lionsxii

These six that are recommended to move abroad, or more frankly, shoved out of Singapore and thrown abroad, will most definitely form the core of Singapore’s national team for the immediate future. With Khaizan and Ishak likely to retire sooner rather than later, the four of Mahbud, Bahrudin, Harun and Ghani will form the core of the Singapore side for the next decade.

This is not having added the likes of wingers Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari, deep-lying playmaker Shafiq and right-back Faritz Hameed, all of whom performed beyond expectations in this season’s rush to the title. They will further their development with the LionsXII in the MSL, and hopefully another season on the up would see them go abroad next year as well.

Only with such cycle of players moving abroad and paving the way for more to follow, can Singapore football truly develop. Only when youth footballers dare to dream big and start moving abroad even earlier in their careers, will they have more time to develop and at their own pace as well. Only with more players with many experiences in different countries can Singapore remain a regional ASEAN football power, but also hopefully finally be able to make some impression on the Asian continent, in the not so distant future.

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