Amidst the farce surrounding Singapore football – from the lack of coordination within the S.League to the delay of proper elections for the country’s Football Association (FAS) – one sliver of good news has emerged, due to the efforts of an unlikely source.
Extensively covered already, Singapore vice-captain Hariss Harun has moved to the Spanish third division on a season-long loan deal with CE L’Hospitalet (or sent out on loan by his Malaysian employers). The youngest ever national team debutant, Hariss will now be the first-ever Singaporean to play in the Spanish leagues. Hariss has also gone one better than some of Singapore’s finest players of recent years – the likes of striker Indra Sahdan and goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, both who had trials in England but never secured a contract.
More competitive league… finally
For years, Hariss has been the golden boy of Singapore football, ever since he made his debut against North Korea as a 16 year old. Much was expected of Hariss, especially after he impressed during a training stint at the famed La Masia academy of CE L’Hospitalet’s fellow Catalonia club, FC Barcelona.
However, Hariss’s reluctance to move to Portugal first division side Rio Ave was certainly a missed opportunity and stalled his development. Even then, he was still the best midfielder in Singapore – which speaks as much about the low standards of local football in general. He did gain slightly more competitive experience leading the now-defunct LionsXII side to a Malaysia Super League (MSL) title, before repeating the feat with current club Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and going one better by winning the AFC Cup (Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League) in 2015.
Having gained regional experience in the AFC Cup, this move is the step up Hariss needs to (finally) take his football to the next level. He may not be playing at the glamorous grounds of the Camp Nou, Santiago Bernabeu or (for now) Peter Lim’s Mestalla, but the Spanish third division is home to the B teams of Barcelona and Valencia.
This league has honed the likes of Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, back in the days before they became all-conquering together. It will be a technical and tactical step up for Hariss, and it is hoped that a year there would, at least, make him more aware and improve his technique – areas which he can then pass on to his team-mates in the national side. At best, he can impress a scout and secure another move to the Spanish second division or perhaps the Belgian/Dutch/Portuguese top-flight.
Leading the way
As well as being the de-facto captain for Singapore (with skipper Shahril Ishak on the decline and out of the first XI), everyone hopes Hariss’s move will lead the way for other high-potential Singaporean stars to secure opportunities overseas.
Goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, now at Tampines, should look to Hariss’s example and push for his move to the J-League (where he had a trial previously), Australia or America’s MLS, for a start. Fellow midfielder Safuwan Baharudin, now at Malaysian side PDRM, should’ve returned to the A-League, after impressing in his three month loan spell at Melbourne City. These two, along with Hariss, are the spine of this Singapore side for the next five years.
It should also inspire Singapore’s hottest prospects who have trained in European academies before – the likes of Irfan Fandi (Spanish side Hercules FC) and Adam Swandi (French side FC Metz) – to seek moves abroad as early in their careers as possible – i.e. after their career-stalling National Service has ended.
Further, Hariss’s move, as well as Hafiz Sujad’s deserved move to Thai second division side BBCU, should be an inspiration for other Singaporeans to move abroad, starting with the Thai leagues. The likes of Faris Ramli, Izzdin Shahfiq and Madhu Mohana have shown they have the skills, but they have not yet proven their mental edge. A move away from Singapore (and Malaysia) is what’s needed to improve their overall games.
Years too late
Better late than never, right? Yet there will be much to ponder about, what could’ve been of Hariss’s career, had he moved to Portugal in 2013?
Perhaps he would be the best midfielder in ASEAN by now, moved to Porto, won the Portuguese championship twice and on the verge of moving to English side Middlesborough. Perhaps he would have flopped, being too young and inexperienced at 22/23.
At 26, Hariss is entering his peak years as a midfielder. This stint is his make-or-break as to whether he will become top-level footballer in terms of the wider Asian context, not just ASEAN. Will he get to the standards set by Japan skipper Makoto Hasebe? Or outshine South Korea midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung in a future potential World Cup qualifier?
Even in the ASEAN context right now, the likes of Thailand’s Charyl Chappuis and Philippines’ Manuel Ott are seen as superior to Hariss. Once the hottest prospect in ASEAN, Hariss’ career has not reached the heights most expected. It will be hoped his development accelerates with this year in Spain, and more so that this year in Europe will become two, three or for the next decade.
Hopefully, Hariss’s career progression (or lack thereof) will also be an example for Izwan and Safuwan not to let their early careers past them by and to secure that all-important overseas move (beyond ASEAN) as soon as possible.