Singapore Football

Goalkeeper Izwan hopeful of sealing move to Japanese club

Goalkeeper Izwan tells David Lee he hopes he has done enough to earn offer from Japanese club

COMMENT by IZWAN MAHBUD

Every footballer dreams of playing for big clubs such as Manchester United or Barcelona but, for me, just to attract interest from an overseas club is both exciting and a little overwhelming.

Like most Singaporean footballers of my age coming through the National Football Academy (NFA), I haven't had to make too many decisions as I graduated through the system, played for the Courts Young Lions and then the LionsXII.

It is not a situation I'm used to but, when Matsumoto Yamaga invited me for this week-long stint, I knew that I would go for it if I no longer had any LionsXII commitment.

Having said that, I didn't know what to expect before I came here.

I have been to Japan for a national team training camp in 2012 and for June's World Cup/Asian Cup qualifier, but I haven't gone for a trial since I was invited for the NFA Under-15s training by coach Kadir Yahaya when I was 14.

But, with two suitcases worth of gear, some comfort food like cereal, sambal and instant noodles - and thanks to help from Epson Singapore, the Football Association of Singapore and the Singapore media here with me - I was ready for the biggest challenge of my life.

Players arriving an hour early for training and warming up 10 minutes before the start are things you don't usually see in Singapore. But I have no problems with that.

I still made some mistakes though - I stripped down to my shorts for my first training session on Wednesday and regretted it immediately when it rained and I had to dive about on the cold and wet artificial pitch.

That didn't stop me from overcoming the initial difficulties I had in understanding some of the drills which I had not practised before.

What impressed me most over the past week was how hospitable the Japanese are.

Everyone at the club was very welcoming - even the three competing goalkeepers were so friendly.

And what more can I say of the fans? I'm just a guest here and I come from a small country, but their support is amazing.

GIFTS

Some gave me little gifts like fruit juice, many were happy just to shake my hand and wish me "gambatte" (Japanese for good luck).

It's not about feeling like a superstar. These small gestures make footballers like me feel appreciated and give us extra motivation to persevere when the going gets tough.

After the three training sessions and one friendly match, I cannot afford to think that I did well.

There are always areas to improve, especially after having trained with a J.League club.

When the goalkeeper coach (Honma Yasutaka) said that I have to improve on my footwork and positioning, I fully agree with him.

Training with Matsumoto Yamaga has made me realise there is a bigger football world out there for Singaporeans like me, and it is within reach.

Although there is interest at home from Tampines Rovers and from Thailand's Chonburi, and both could qualify for the AFC Champions League, there are no concrete offers and it's an uneasy position to be in with my future still up in the air.

If it's up to me and, if the terms are right, I would love to play for Yamaga.

Matsumoto is a nice quiet city and it would be great to be part of the challenge to help the club win promotion back into the J1 League.

*Izwan Mahbud was talking to David Lee, 
whose trip was sponsored by Epson Singapore.

Players arriving an hour early for training and warming up 10 minutes before the start are things you don’t usually see in Singapore. But I have no problems with that.

— National goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, on his week-long trial at Matsumoto Yamaga

Yamaga - a club with 50 years 
of history

Like Singapore, J.League side Matsumoto Yamaga are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

Despite playing in Japan's regional leagues as recently as 2009 and entering the J.League only in 2012, the Ptarmigans' meteoric rise to the J1 League this year is testament to the direction of owners Alwin Sports Project and the efforts of club officials and players.

The non-profit organisation took charge of the club's operations in 2004 with the aim of building an integrated sports club for the Matsumoto region and becoming a force to be reckoned with in the J.League.

While they made a swift return to the J2 League by finishing 16th out of 18 teams in the recently concluded season, Yamaga fans are famous for their unyielding support.

Around 20,000 fans regularly pack the Alwin Stadium for home matches and the strong bond between the community, fans, the club and their players was strengthened in 2011 by the death of former Japan international and Yamaga defender Naoki Matsuda, who had a cardiac arrest during training.

The club were founded in 1965 by players who represented the Nagano prefecture.

CAFE CLUB

The players frequented a cafe called Yamaga in front of the Matsumoto train station and initially they were just called Yamaga Club.

After Alwin took over, they were renamed Matsumoto Yamaga.

Their biggest rivals are prefectural neighbours Nagano Parceiro. Matches between them are dubbed the Shinshu Derby and generate a lot of interest in both cities.

Yamaga are sponsored by Japanese electronics company Epson, whose Singapore arm has collaborated with the club and the Football Association of Singapore to send Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and three National Football Academy Under-14 players for separate training stints.

- DAVID LEE

izwan mahbudMatsumoto YamagaJ-League