Team Singapore

Hariss: U-23 boys need to buck up

PROUD PARENTS: Hariss Harun, his wife Syahirah and three-week-old son Naufal. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HARISS HARUN

1 Congratulations on becoming a father for the first time. How has parenthood changed you?

HARISS: Parenthood is a new experience and it comes with added responsibilities. For example, I'll have to learn to prepare milk, change diapers, and sometimes my sleep gets disrupted. But when I see him smile, it's all worth it.

I have to thank my wife and our families because they do most of the work. My wife takes the night shift because I have morning training sessions and I take over when I'm back from training.

I'm still learning. Before marriage, it's more of myself and looking after my parents. But now, I have to take care of my wife, kid, and both families.

I'm trying to make the best of every moment - keep working hard, have faith in God and give my son the best we can.

2 You were one of a few players who stood out at the Suzuki Cup. What clicked for you?

I was really up for it. As a team, we had a responsibility to do something for the fans because we were both hosts and defending champions.

We wanted to make the new stadium a fortress like the old one. We wanted the Kallang Roar back and it had to start with the players. I was fired up and that's what I did.

3 But what went wrong? What needs to be improved?

We were very close to qualifying for the semi-finals. If not for the late penalty for Malaysia that wasn't, we would have been through. 

We can only learn and take it as a lesson. We didn't push ourselves hard enough. The second-half near collapse against Myanmar shouldn't have happened, and it was a warning sign which perhaps we didn't heed.

We have the players to build a good team, it's about how we build the mental aspect now.

It's normal after a failed campaign to have criticism. We have to move on and we can answer only with our football. Nobody talked about the failure of 2010 after we won in 2012.

But we have to aim higher. Suzuki Cup is important, but look at Thailand, they made an impression at the Asian Games. They look set to rule South-east Asia for the years to come, and that's what we have to stop.

Under Raddy (Avramovic), we did well at the Asian level. We came within a goal of qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup, we were posing problems for the big boys, and we need to re-establish that.

Under Bernd (Stange), we haven't been really successful, but we can get better.

4 One of the points brought up in the Suzuki Cup fallout was that Stange's preference for youth had backfired - the young players in the team didn't perform but kept their places in the team. What is your take on that?

I think that as footballers, when we are not challenged enough, we can become satisfied and don't improve. Your head can prevent your talent from developing. I've always believed that professional footballers should never be satisfied until you retire.

When I was 17 or 18, I was challenged by players like Mustafic (Fahrudin), John (Wilkinson), (Shi) Jiayi and Isa (Halim) in the national team and Along (Noh Alam Shah) wouldn't let any young players have an easy ride. 

Once, Raddy told me not to expect to play and I was unhappy because I thought: Why would he pick me and not want me to play? But, whenever I wasn't in the matchday squad, I worked even harder. 

A lot of credit has to go to Raddy for setting me up mentally to become a professional footballer.

5 Do you think that the Courts Young Lions actually breed mediocrity where players become comfortable with the status quo?

When I was with the Young Lions, I had seniors like Baihakki (Khaizan), (Khairul) Amri and Isa, who wouldn't let any opponent push us around.

We need to have someone among the senior players to take charge and not let players get comfortable. This is the national Under-23 team. They can't be finishing near the end of the table year after year.

For this year's SEA Games, the senior players like Shakir (Hamzah), Shahfiq (Ghani) and Sahil (Suhaimi) have to pick up the slack. Not many countries have a national Under-23 team in their league. The S.League should also come up with a rule that local clubs must play at least two Under-23 players in every match.

6 You came through the S.League ranks. What do you think about the state of the local league as it approaches its 20th season?

The S.League means a lot to me because it was where I started my professional career. And sometimes, those who are criticising are the people who care.

We have to make our S.League respectable again. We were happy when it was one of Asia's top 10 leagues but we are not there anymore. 

The AFC criteria are there to follow and I hope we can work towards that. I look forward to the day where Singaporeans will support, and not scoff at, the S.League.