Exclusive: Izwan goes to Japan for training stint
J.League side Matsumoto Yamaga have kept their word and invited Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud for a training stint this week.
The 25-year-old will be in Japan from tomorrow till next Monday in a bid to earn a permanent contract with the Ptarmigans, who were relegated after finishing 16th out of 18 teams in their first season in Japan’s top flight this year.
If he succeeds, he will be the first Singaporean footballer to ply his trade in the J.League.
Matsumoto, who regularly play in front of a capacity 20,000-seater Alwin Stadium, conceded 54 goals in 34 games and are looking for a better shot-stopper.
Izwan may have to contend with as many as five local goalkeepers in the squad, but he told The New Paper: “It will be a great experience and exposure and I’m honoured that a J.League club have shown their interest in me.
“I will go there with an open mind, do my best and hopefully impress enough to earn an offer.
“For sure, I’m not going there for a holiday. I’m ready in terms of match fitness as the LionsXII season has just ended. Communication will be a bit difficult but I will try to learn some simple Japanese terms as soon as possible.”
The stint is facilitated by the Singapore arm of Matsumoto Yamaga sponsors Epson.
Epson Singapore general manager (regional — marketing support) Alvin Tan said: “We are happy a Singaporean footballer has caught the eye of a J-League club. With our links as sponsors of Matsumoto Yamaga and the FAS, we are very happy to play a part to facilitate this trial.
“We share FAS’ vision and commitment in developing talent and will continue to support and work closely in anyway possible as a sponsor, to groom more talent for Singapore.
“Epson Singapore wishes Izwan all the best during this week in Matsumoto city and trust that both the club and the player will benefit greatly from this exchange.”
In June, Epson Singapore had collaborated with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to send three promising juniors for a week-long stint with the Japanese club.
That was when Izwan was all the rage in Japan, after making 18 saves to help Singapore secure a shock 0-0 draw with the Samurai Blue in a World Cup/Asian Cup qualifier in Saitama. The club extended an invitation to the goalkeeper through TNP.
His performances this season has certainly caught the eye, with Thai club Chonburi FC expressing interest in the player last week.
Yesterday, Matsumoto’s vice-president, Yoshiyuki Kato, said: “Izwan is one of the players we have identified and, after a series of positive discussions, we are pleased to invite him for a week-long training stint with us.
“While we are now in the post-season period, we are confident that the training stint and exposure to a new culture will benefit Izwan, who certainly has the potential to become one of the best goalkeepers in Asia.
“There are several other players from Singapore who have the capabilities to play in Japan and we will continue to discuss with the FAS the various possible arrangements.”
It is understood that Matsumoto were also keen on national midfielders Hariss Harun and Safuwan Baharudin.
However, after signing a new four-year deal with Hariss, AFC Cup and Malaysian Super League winners Johor Darul Ta’zim I wants him to recuperate after a long season, while Safuwan, who impressed in six games for A-League’s Melbourne City, is believed not to be keen on a trial.
Watching him chalk up another dozen good saves to restrict Japan to a 3-0 win in their latest encounter last month, Chiyomi Iwata, a writer with The Nikkan Sports News, felt that Izwan "will succeed in the J.League".
She added: "Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic was impressed with your goalkeeper and praised him after both games, which shows how highly-rated he is.
"But he has to adapt to the weather as it is very cold now in Matsumoto. The temperature is around -2 to 13 degrees Celsius, and that could affect his muscles."
Nevertheless, J.League's international relations official Kei Koyama remained optimistic, and said: "Based on the partnership between J.League and S.League, we really hope that a top Singaporean player like Izwan will succeed with Matsumoto Yamaga and come play in Japan."
Benjamin Tan, deputy director for development and planning at FAS, added: "As part of our strategy to further facilitate the development of our players, we are constantly working with our partners to identify and secure overseas opportunities which include such training stints.
"This is a good opportunity for Izwan to train with, and learn from, other top professional footballers in Asia, and we look forward to receiving feedback from Matsumoto Yamaga's coaches on his stint.
"We would like to thank our partners, including the Japan Football Association, J.League and Epson, for their support.
"We will continue our ongoing discussions with our partners, including top professional clubs in Asia and Europe, to place other talented and committed players on attachments."