Singapore Football

Safuwan set to debut for Melbourne City on Sunday

If all goes well, Safuwan Baharudin could make his A-League debut on Sunday.

After impressing in a recent trial, the 23-year-old national defender has signed a three-month loan deal with Melbourne City, until the end of the season.

Melbourne are lying sixth out of 10 teams in the A-League.

Safuwan will be their fifth and final foreign signing, joining former Chelsea star Damien Duff, ex-West Brom midfielder Robert Koren, Dutch defender Rob Wielaert and Argentina midfielder Jonatan Germano.

The lanky defender is the first Singaporean footballer since V Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad to ply his trade at a significantly higher level abroad, and also the first local to join the A-League.

Sundram played for Swiss team Basel in 1988, while Fandi turned out for Dutch side FC Groningen in 1983.

After flying off to Melbourne on Wednesday to join his new team, Safuwan revealed that coach John van't Schip told him he could go straight into the match-day squad to face AFC Champions League winners Western Sydney Wanderers on Sunday.

"John spoke to me and told me that he wants me to be in the team. By tomorrow, I will get a feel of my body.

DEBUT

"Hopefully, things go well, and I'm looking forward to Sunday," Safuwan told The New Paper, who broke the story of his Australian adventure on Dec 23 and chronicled every step as he tried to fulfil his dream.

Former Holland national assistant coach van't Schip is confident that his new signing will be an asset to his side as they aim to consolidate their top-six position to qualify for the finals series in May, after the regular season ends on April 26.

"Safuwan is a mobile defender who is calm and composed on the ball and makes quick and good decisions," said van't Schip.

"He impressed the coaching staff while playing and training with us in Abu Dhabi and we believe he will fit in with our players and complement our style."

Safuwan spent 10 days with Melbourne on their mid-season training camp in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, featuring in two friendly matches against Al-Jazira of the United Arab Emirates and Ukranian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

It was clear that his fitness, stability and confidence impressed his new coach.

He said: "The feedback I got from the coach was that he was pleased with my attitude and hard work, both in training sessions and in the two matches.

"He knew it would not be easy for me but he was pleased with how I adapted. And he didn't expect me to be as fit as I was. 

"My fitness was on a par with my teammates because I had just finished playing in the Suzuki Cup and I also played a few pre-season friendly games with the LionsXII."

ARRIVAL

Upon his arrival in Melbourne yesterday, he headed to the training ground, but did not join the rest of the squad for the full training session.

"I only did recovery and had a massage.

"It was great to see all my teammates again for the first time since the Abu Dhabi trip.

"I seem to click with everyone on the team, and it was great to see the smiles in the changing room," said Safuwan.

"The training ground and facilities are superb. I can't describe how excited I am, because I've never experienced anything like this."

LOAN DEAL

As he is on contract with the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) developmental side LionsXII, who play in the Malaysian Super League, Safuwan's move Down Under is a loan deal.

But TNP understands the FAS will not stand in the way if Melbourne City offer him a long-term contract.

It is understood that the deal with the Australian side is less than the $15,000 he reportedly earns with the LionsXII.

But, for Safuwan, money takes a back seat when an offer like this comes along.

"I've always wanted this, so there was no way I was going to reject this offer," he said.

"There are several people I must thank for making this dream come true.

"They include FAS president Zainudin Nordin, FAS general secretary Winston Lee, FAS council member Bambang Sugeng Kajairi as well as John Didiulica, director of football operations at Melbourne City and Francisco Lopez, the business director of City Football Group.

"They have all worked hard behind the scenes to create this opportunity for me.

"Words cannot express my gratitude to them."

Should Safuwan impress during the three-month stint, the club could offer him a longer contract.

"Yes, I hope I do enough (to earn an extension)," he said.

"It's all about how quickly I adapt. At the moment, I just want to do my best."

Safuwan added that he wants to emulate his heroes Sundram and Fandi and fly the Singapore flag high in Melbourne.

"Singapore football has been waiting for someone to step up and be the same calibre as Fandi and Sundram, and I'm proud I've got the opportunity," he said.

"I want to continue their legacy, but I know it's not going to be easy."

Of course, as a parent, I’m very proud. I just advised him to take care, be calm and obey the coach. God willing, everything will work out fine.

— Safuwan’s father Baharudin Abdul Ghani