Safuwan could get his debut today
REPORTING FROM MELBOURNE
MELBOURNE VICTORY v MELBOURNE CITY
(Today, 4.25pm, StarHub TV Ch 202)
Defender Safuwan Baharudin could be handed an unexpected A-League debut today.
The 23-year-old Singaporean, who signed a three-month loan deal with A-League side Melbourne City last Thursday, was expected to start on the bench again when City take on local rivals Melbourne Victory at the 53,300-seater Etihad Stadium.
But a calf injury to defensive midfielder Erik Paartalu has thrown up the possibility of City coach John van't Schip turning to Safuwan to plug the gap in midfield.
The versatile player, who was used as a defender, midfielder and striker during his days with the LionsXII, is excited that his big break could come so soon after he was an unused substitute in the team's 2-1 home win against Western Sydney Wanderers last Sunday.
Speaking to The New Paper after yesterday morning's training session, Safuwan said: "I thought it was weird that one of John's assistants pulled me to one side before training and told me to get ready for tomorrow's game.
"Then John himself came by and told me that Erik might not play, and he wanted me to be on standby as there's a chance I could come into the team.
"I can't put into words how excited I feel. I know how seriously the players and the fans take the Melbourne Derby and, if I get a chance to play in it, it would be a dream come true."
Another option for van't Schip is to use attack-minded midfielder Jacob Melling in a more defensive role.
But Melling has revelled in his attacking role recently alongside fellow central midfielder Aaron Mooy, with Paartalu providing the defensive cover behind them.
Melling and Mooy scored the goals when City beat the Wanderers last Sunday.
Van't Schip spoke to the media before he took the team's training session, but gave little away as to whether Safuwan would be handed his A-League debut (see sidebar).
While it remains to be seen if he will take to the pitch today, Safuwan is just focused on preparing for the Melbourne Derby.
After all, he said that the experience of training alongside players such as former Chelsea star Damien Duff, ex-Leicester City defender Patrick Kisnorbo and West Brom midfielder Robert "Robi" Koren, has benefited him.
"Every day, I'm learning something new in training," said Safuwan.
"I've got pointers from my teammates and coaches about things I'm doing well but can do better, or things I'm not doing right.
"I feel like I'm learning about football all over again."
The affable defender gushes when he talks about the "monkey" sessions the players take part in before the structured training commences.
He said with a smile: "Here, it's split into two groups - the players call them the 'Champions League' group and the 'Europa League' group.
"The Champions League group have players like Damien, Robi and Patrick, and the standard is really high.
"I know my place, so I go to the Europa League group and, even then, I feel like I'm playing with players from Barcelona. Everybody is so technically sound.
"The intensity of training is three times higher than what it is like back in Singapore.
"You can see every player has a 'never-say-die' mentality even during training. Lose a small-sided game and there will be big arguments!"
'Safuwan must grab his chance'
"He can play in different positions, he’s a very versatile player, and maybe he will be used tomorrow. "
— Melbourne City coach John van’t Schip (above) on Safuwan Baharudin
So far, so good.
Melbourne City coach John van't Schip has only good things to say about Safuwan Baharudin since the Singaporean footballer joined the A-League club on loan last week.
Safuwan has been assigned the No. 29 jersey and was an unused substitute in City's 2-1 win over Western Sydney Wanderers at their AAMI Park home stadium last Sunday.
But, with the team's regular defensive midfielder Erik Paartalu struggling with a calf injury, the 23-year-old could be thrown into the fray for today's powder-keg clash with city rivals Mebourne Victory, who are third in the A-League, three places above City.
Perhaps it is the pressure that comes with a local Derby, but van't Schip is playing his cards close to his chest as he prepares his team for the clash.
When asked if Safuwan could be handed his A-League debut this afternoon, van't Schip said: "Well, he's part of the team again, and every player who's part of the team has a big chance to play.
"Last week, he didn't come in, but we're very satisfied and happy with him. He's made a good impression this week.
"He's a player who we're very happy to have here. He can play in different positions, he's a very versatile player, and maybe he will be used tomorrow."
Dutchman van't Schip added that he's satisfied with all areas of Safuwan's game.
"He has to get used, maybe, to the way of playing in this league. He just has to wait for his chance," he said.
"We're playing with a team that have already (known) each other and Safuwan, like Jack (Clisby, another new signing), started on the bench last week. He (Clisby) got his chance because left back Benny (Garucchio) got injured and he's a perfect replacement because he is also a left back.
"And if a similar (scenario) happens with Safuwan, with a player in his position getting injured or is not achieving the standard we want, then he has to grab his chance and I'm sure he will."
Safuwan revealed that the coach has made sure that he settles in quickly at the club.
"John takes care of the players really well, especially in terms of welfare," said Safuwan. "For example, every now and then, he will try to communicate with me, even if it's just about food or weather.
"I know he just wants to make me feel welcomed. Some coaches don't do that."
It is not surprising that van't Schip has a soft spot for a Singaporean son.
After all, he played alongside one over 30 years ago, when Fandi Ahmad starred in a trial with Ajax Amsterdam in 1982.
When The New Paper mentioned Fandi's name, van't Schip's eyes lit up.
"Wow, that was a long time ago," he said, flashing a wide smile. "Yes, I trained with Fandi at Ajax Amsterdam and, even though he didn't sign for us, he came back to Holland with Groningen and he did fantastic.
"He even scored against Inter Milan in the European Cup, so he's very famous in Groningen.
"I have very good memories of him because he was with us in pre-season, great guy and nice person.
"Send him my regards."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ