Singapore Football

Safuwan not in best shape

Ahead of a big week for the Lions, Singapore 
star says he's still trying to find his best form

SINGAPORE v MYANMAR

(Tonight, 7.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 109)

He is primed to play a key role for the Lions tonight in an international friendly against Myanmar. He will be a vital figure next Tuesday when Singapore take on Afghanistan in a World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifier in Teheran.

Indeed, Safuwan Baharudin is expected to be a vital cog in the national team over the next few years.

But the 24-year-old is fretting over his immediate form.

He admits he is not in the best shape of his life after joining unfancied Malaysian Super League (MSL) side PDRM FA last December, in a deal reported to be worth $30,000 a month.

Sitting down for a chat with The New Paper near the national team's Amara Hotel base yesterday, Safuwan said: "When I came back to national team training, I felt like I was one or two gears behind. Honestly.

"In PDRM, every week we face opponents who are technically and tactically better.

"The team rely a lot on the foreign imports. Six or seven of the local players are full-time policemen.

"So yah, I feel as though I've struggled a bit in the last three days training with the national team."

His decision to join PDRM raised eyebrows in the local football fraternity, many of whom felt that he had the potential to play at a far higher level.

After all, he excelled in a three-month loan stint with Australian side Melbourne City last year, playing alongside the likes of ex-EPL star Damien Duff and former Leicester City defender Patrick Kisnorbo.

CHANCE

He was also reportedly offered a chance to join J-League side Yokohama F Marinos on loan last year, although the move did not materialise.

He explained: "A lot of people ask me why I picked the MSL over other leagues. When the LionsXII were suddenly barred from the MSL, all of us players did not have breathing space or the chance to bide our time.

"The only concrete offer I had soon after was from PDRM.

"Even now, after four months with PDRM, I feel I can still venture out into a better league in the future."

Away from the pitch, Safuwan has settled well in Kuala Lumpur.

He lives in a rented apartment which is just five minutes' walk from the popular KLCC shopping mall.

PDRM's training facility, the Police Training Centre of Malaysia, is a 10-minute drive away.

He is familiar with the city, having driven up often with former LionsXII teammates Shahdan Sulaiman, Aqhari Abdullah and Abdil Qaiyyim, among others, to "hunt for makan places".

But on the pitch, he is not as comfortable.

Safuwan is feeling the pressure of being a foreign import who has to deliver for his team.

"The pressure I feel at PDRM is two or three times more than at Melbourne," he said.

"I took three games to score my first pre-season goal and I went on to score five in nine games in total.

"But I'm starting to feel the pressure again because I have scored just once (in six competitive matches).

"That's not normal for me, especially since last year I scored every two or three games in the Malaysia Cup for the LionsXII.

"But I had players who provided the service to me last year. Now, I have to create and score."

TNP once labelled Safuwan as the Lions' "Iron Man".

VERSATILE

Just like the popular comic book character, who has specialised armoured suits for different occasions, Safuwan has taken up several roles and played at fullback, centre back, midfielder and even as a forward.

The player himself believes he is best playing just behind the main striker as he is "more dangerous coming from behind, rather than just standing up front".

He hopes he can play a hero's role and help the Lions regain their title to become the region's No. 1 side (Singapore are joint record four-time winners of the AFF Suzuki Cup with Thailand).

With the biennial Suzuki Cup looming at the end of the year, Safuwan says the players are itching to put things right after being dumped out of the tournament in the group stage on home soil in 2014.

He said: "Definitely we can challenge the Thais.

"Maybe we are lacking in one or two areas but, if we can improve on them, I'm sure we can do better.

"We have to regain the confidence we once had, where we go to a Suzuki Cup and people remember Singapore are four-time champions.

"It's not going to be immediate. Maybe it will take two or three years. But we can do it."

The pressure I feel at PDRM is two or three times more than at Melbourne. I took three games to score my first pre-season goal and I went on to score five in nine games in total. But I’m starting to feel the pressure again because I have scored just once (in six competitive matches).

— Safuwan Baharudin, on being a foreign import at PDRM

RECENT UPS AND DOWNS

NOV 2014:

Part of the Singapore squad that were knocked out at the group stage of the Suzuki Cup on home soil, after losing to Malaysia and Thailand in injury time.

DEC 2014:

TNP breaks news of Safuwan Baharudin being offered a trial at an unnamed A-League club, later revealed as Melbourne City.

JAN 2015:

Leaves Singapore for Abu Dhabi, where he plays in two trial matches for City. He plays 68 minutes against an Al Jazira side, featuring current West Ham livewire Manuel Lanzini and ex-Juventus star Mirko Vucinic, before a 75-min outing against Ukranian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. After returning to Singapore, he leaves for Australia on Jan 29 to sign a three-month loan deal with City.

FEB 2015:

Makes a surprise debut and plays an hour as a defensive midfielder in the Melbourne Derby against Melbourne Victory, which City lose 3-0. Becomes the first Singaporean to score in the A-League when he nets in City's 3-1 win over Adelaide United on Feb 28, winning the Man-of-the-Match award. Repeats the scoring trick 11 days later, when City go down 3-2 to Western Sydney Wanderers.

APRIL 2015:

Picks up a spine injury in City's 0-0 draw at Wellington Phoenix. The injury eventually cuts short his stint Down Under, and he returns to the LionsXII soon after.

MAY 2015:

Part of the LionsXII team that beat Kelantan 3-1 in the FA Cup final. The next month, scores twice against Cambodia to help Singapore get their World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers off to a winning start.

JULY 2015:

TNP breaks news that Safuwan is offered a chance to join J-League side Yokohama F Marinos on loan. The move falls through in the end.

Safuwan features for the Singapore Selection side in matches against Arsenal and Stoke in the Barclays Trophy tournament.

NOV 2015:

The Football Association of Malaysia surprisingly decides not to extend the LionsXII's participation in Malaysian domestic competition from 2016, leaving the LionsXII players in limbo. Safuwan is the only member of the squad who has a year left on his contract with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). The squad are later disbanded.

DEC 2015:

Just 10 days after the FAS announce the LionsXII players are free to sign for any club, officials from Malaysian Super League side PDRM FA tell TNP they are eyeing Safuwan. Nine days after TNP's report, PDRM and FAS confirm the move.

MARCH 2016:

Sets up one goal and scores the winner as PDRM stun 33-time Malaysia Cup champions Selangor 2-1 in the third round of the Malaysia FA Cup. It is his only goal in six competitive matches for the Cops.