Fazrul Nawaz to play alongside ex-Pool striker El-Hadji Diouf at new club Sabah
From a local star in the S.League to former Liverpool player El Hadji Diouf's strike partner, in just 12 hours.
That was Singapore striker Fazrul Nawaz's incredible experience on Wednesday, as he recounted the whirlwind of events that led to him signing for second-tier Malaysian Premier League side Sabah FA.
To boost their chances of getting promoted to the top-tier Malaysian Super League (MSL), Sabah recently signed Senegalese duo Diouf and Abdoulaye Faye (formerly of Newcastle and Stoke).
The two former English Premier League stars will now count Fazrul as a teammate.
The 29-year-old Fazrul, whose 10 goals for Home United made him the joint-top local-born scorer in the S.League this past season, could not help but chuckle when he explained to The New Paper last night the circumstances that led to him being unveiled as a Sabah player.
"It all happened so fast," said Fazrul.
"I got a call from Alex Weaver (coach of S.League side Warriors FC) around noon on Wednesday, telling me Sabah, who are coached by his friend George O'Callaghan, were interested in me.
"I was in shock, partly because I read a while back that they had signed Diouf for next season.
"So I asked Alex, 'Are you serious?'. I thought it was a joke.
"Then the Sabah coach himself called me and offered me a deal, and said that if I was keen to join, he would arrange a flight for me that afternoon.
"They wanted me to settle the medical and sign the contract as soon as possible, because the deadline for registration was Friday."
At the time, Fazrul was still in talks with Home over a new contract for next season.
He declined to reveal the salary offered by Sabah in his one-year contract but said it is almost double of what he last earned at Home, which is "good enough" for him.
So, less than six hours after being contacted by Weaver, he was off on a plane to Kota Kinabalu.
He didn't expect to meet his future strike partner Diouf, 33, so soon.
"When I reached Sabah and later saw Diouf, looking like a rapper, at the hotel lobby, I was stunned," said Fazrul.
"The team officials introduced me to him and the other foreigners as the team's fourth import for the new season.
"When Diouf heard I was from Singapore, he told me it was a beautiful country and that he would like to visit it soon. I said, 'No problem! I can bring you there'."
A member of Singapore's ill-fated AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, Fazrul will link up with his new teammates (the other is Irish-born Libyan Eamon Zayed) only next Wednesday, when they return from a pre-season invitational tournament in China.
No one can blame the striker for still pinching himself.
Just a year ago, his career looked in jeopardy after a horror tackle in a Malaysia Cup quarter-final match left the former LionsXII striker with a fractured skull and cheekbone.
But, with a rugby helmet strapped onto his head a la Petr Cech, Fazrul repaid the faith Home showed him by signing him while he was still recuperating and fighting to save his career.
His scoring record in the S.League is consistent but not spectacular - he scored a total of 34 goals in 2011, 2012 and 2014 - and bagged only five in the MSL for the LionsXII in 2013.
He says he is lucky former Ipswich Town player O'Callaghan had his pulse on the S.League.
"Fortunately for me, the coach says he has some business interests in Singapore," said Fazrul.
"So, whenever he's here, he tries to watch some of the S.League games. That's how he knows quite a bit about me and the S.League.
"He told me he was after either me or (Kento) Nagasaki from Albirex Niigata and, luckily for me, he decided to pick me."
Despite his brief trip to Sabah to sort out his medical and contract, Fazrul already felt the buzz ahead of the 2015 season.
"The fans who asked me for pictures said they hoped the team would get promoted," he said.
"I just want to do my best for Sabah next season. I'm excited and can't wait for the season to begin.
"Of course there's pressure, but I'm just excited by everything.
"To have the likes of Diouf, a player I watched on TV, as my teammate... I just can't wait to start training with him.
"I want to thank Home United and the FAS for all the support they've given me, and to the Sabah FA and their management for giving me a chance to play overseas.
"I just can't wait to get started."
To have the likes of Diouf, a player I watched on TV, as my teammate. I just can’t wait to start training with him.
— Fazrul Nawaz on his strike partner El Hadji Diouf