Geylang's Shawal and Quak off to Japan for trials
Wingers Shawal and Quak aim to impress J2 outfit Yamaga
Less than three years ago, he was just a social footballer playing in the National Football League with Keppel Monaco.
Soon, Geylang International winger Shawal Anuar may well be the first Singaporean to play professional football in Japan.
The 25-year-old and teammate Gabriel Quak will head to Japan later this month for trials with second-division outfit Matsumoto Yamaga.
The opportunity caps Shawal's meteoric rise: he played just 69 minutes for Geylang's first team in 2014, but is now a starter for Hasrin Jailani's team.
"I was shocked to hear that I was selected for the trial, and I'm also happy because this is a great opportunity for me. I'm grateful to my club, coaches, teammates and club sponsor Epson for this," said Shawal, who won his first international cap in a 2-0 away defeat by Hong Kong last October.
"I have never expected my football career to take off this way, but it shows that there is always a chance, even for late bloomers."
Shawal and Quak, 26, will join Yamaga's pre-season training camp in Shizuoka prefecture from Jan 31 to Feb 6, and aim to impress coach Yasuharu Sorimachi.
Also, Eagles assistant coach and ex-Lion Noor Ali will be attached to the club's coaching staff for the same period.
The opportunity is made possible through the memorandum of understanding, signed by both clubs on Nov 23, with Epson being the bridge as sponsors of both clubs.
Geylang will also look forward to having a Yamaga youth coach over for a year to guide their centre of excellence coaches and footballers, and may take a Yamaga player on loan.
Geylang chairman Ben Teng said: "Yamaga general manager (Yoshiyuki) Kato-san has identified Gabriel and Shawal as fast players who they would like to go on trial with them.
"I would also like to send our coaches to Japan to understand their academy setup.
"Hopefully, we can bring their values and methodology back to us.
Kato, a former J1 League player with Tokyo Verdy (when it was known as Verdy Kawasaki), visited Singapore last year and was impressed by the creativity and pace of Shawal and Quak.
He told TNP: "I am sure these two players have the potential to play in the J.League.
"Therefore we are going to host these players to get them used to Japanese football and culture, to gain the best benefits of the J.League and be successful in the near future."
In Dec 2015, Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud spent one week with Yamaga, but the club decided against signing him.
TNP understands that the J.League's five-import quota does not apply for Asean players, and Japanese clubs are free to sign a South-east Asian as a local player.
This increases the chances of Shawal and Quak of emulating Thai star Chanathip Songkrasin, who signed for Consadole Sapporo recently.
Alvin Tan, Epson Singapore's general manager of regional business and marketing support, said: "Epson is delighted to play an ongoing role in the collaboration between these two great clubs.
"We are especially hopeful that the two Geylang players can learn not just from the training techniques but the lifestyle and discipline of the Yamaga players, and can use this experience for the benefit of football here.
"Also, I hope they can also share some Singapore culture with the Yamaga players and staff."