EXCLUSIVE: Safuwan Baharudin joins A-League club Melbourne City on three-month deal
National defender Safuwan Baharudin will spend the next three months turning out for Austrialian side Melbourne City in the A-League, alongside the likes of former Chelsea star Damien Duff and ex-West Brom midfielder Robert Koren.
The 23-year-old will be the first footballer since V Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad to play professional football at a significantly higher level.
Sundram played for Swiss team Basel in 1988, while Fandi had two stints in Europe, with Dutch side FC Groningen in 1983 and then OFI Crete of Greece, in 1990.
The New Paper - which broke the story of Safuwan’s Australian adventure on Dec 23 and chronicled every step as he tried to fulfil his dream - was at Changi Airport on Wednesday night (Jan 28) when the stylish centre back said his goodbyes to his family and friends.
Among those who sent him off was national coach Bernd Stange.
Safuwan told TNP that he wants to emulate his football heroes Sundram and Fandi.
“I want to continue their legacy,” - Safuwan Baharudin.
“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.
“But I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Melbourne, who are lying sixth out of 10 teams in the A-League, have signed Safuwan for only three months, as the regular season is scheduled to end on April 26.
The club’s next match is a home game against bottom side Western Sydney Wanderers this Sunday.
If they finish in the top six, however, they will qualify for the league’s Finals Series, which takes place from May 1 to 16.
Should Safuwan do enough to impress Melbourne coach John Van’t Schip, the club could extend his contract to keep him at the club longer.
That is the player’s only focus at the moment.
Yes, I hope I do enough (to earn an extension),” he said. “Like I said, it’s not going to be easy.
“I have only 13 games (in the regular season), and I have never played in the A-League before. I played 140 minutes over two games in Abu Dhabi, but those were friendly matches.
“It’s all about how quickly I adapt. I’m not sure what’s waiting for me there, or whether I’ll be eligible immediately for the first match.
“At the moment, I just want to do my best.”
Safuwan had 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.
He said that Melbourne City coach Van’t Schip told him he was happy with what he saw in the Middle East.
Said the player: “The feedback I got from the coach was that he was pleased with my attitude and hardwork, 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 par with them because I had just finished playing in the AFF Suzuki Cup and I also played a few pre-season friendly games with the LionsXII.”
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 of the player if Melbourne City eventually offer him a long-term deal.
It is understood that the contract with the Australian side is less than the $15,000 he reportedly earns with the Singapore team.
But, for Safuwan, money takes a back seat when an offer like this comes calling.
Dream move comes true
“I’ve always wanted this, so there was no way I was going to reject this offer,” he said.
“Definitely, it’s overwhelming. I can’t put into words the feeling inside me now.
“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 FC 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.
“There has been much criticism of Singapore football and the FAS in the past few months. But I want to tell everyone that the FAS is always quietly working hard in the best interests of its players and local football.
"It is investing a lot of time, energy and resources in youth and player development, and it should be given credit for all its efforts.” - Safuwan Baharudin.
Safuwan’s father, Baharudin Abdul Ghani, offered him some words of advice before he walked into the departure gates.
“Of course, as a parent, I’m very proud,” said the 54-year-old maintenance manager.
“I just advised him to take care, be calm and obey the coach. God willing, everything will work out fine.”