Hariss wants to be a trailblazer
Lions star loaned to third-tier Spanish club, hopes to make impact to open doors for Singaporean footballers
He made history when he donned the red jersey of the Lions in 2007, aged just 16 years and 217 days.
Even those not familiar with Singapore football sat up to take notice when Hariss Harun, the Republic's youngest ever international, went to La Masia that same year.
On a week-long Nike training stint at Barcelona's famed youth academy, Hariss returned with the "Most Valuable Player" award.
A decade later, with a handful of Malaysian Super League (MSL) medals alongside an Asian Football Confederation Cup medal in his pocket, Hariss is returning to Spain to ply his trade just 12 minutes away from the old La Masia campus he trained at.
His club, Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), announced yesterday that Hariss will join third-tier Spanish side Ce L'Hospitalet in a loan move, with the midfielder leaving for Spain on Sunday.
L'Hospitalet play their home games at La Feixa Llarga, less than 10 kilometres away from Barcelona's Nou Camp.
The club play in Group 3 of the Segunda Division B, alongside several reserve teams of sides playing in the Spanish top flight, including the likes of Barcelona, Villarreal and Espanyol.
The 26-year-old is under no illusions about the challenge ahead, but he is relishing the opportunity.
"Honestly, I don't know much about the club, but playing in Europe has always been a target of mine," Hariss told The New Paper yesterday.
"I know I have to go there, adapt as fast as possible and try to help the team.
"This is an opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it.
"If I perform well, hopefully, I will be able to help pave the way for Singapore footballers, too.
"Having to settle in a new place and learn a new language are already hard, and we're not even talking about the football yet.
"But I have been a foreign player in a team before and I know how hard I have to work, and that is exactly what I plan to do at my new club."
L'Hospitalet sit in 16th position in the 20-team standings with 25 points from 23 games and Hariss, who is just coming off pre-season training with JDT, will have to quickly get up to speed.
Despite having not turned out for JDT in any competitive fixture this season, as the club had filled their foreign player quota of four and he was not registered in the MSL, Hariss does not think his fitness will be an issue.
"I've played in only two friendly games for the club so far and that's not enough to help my match fitness, but I don't think fitness is an issue," he said.
"I've been training with the team throughout the pre-season but, yes, I will have to adapt fast when I get there."
Even though he will have to play catch-up with his new teammates, Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy believes that Hariss will do just fine.
"Hariss is a key player for the national team and I'm glad that the situation has been ironed out, and that he knows his destination for the 2017 season," said Sundram, who once played for Swiss club FC Basel and is aware of the challenges that face Hariss.
"With his attitude and his approach to training, I'm confident Hariss will adapt to the new environment quickly and start getting some games under his belt.
ASIAN CUP QUALIFIERS
"We have the Asian Cup qualifiers coming up and we could definitely do with a Hariss who is at the top of his game.
"I hope he has a good season in Spain and that he enjoys his football there."
The Lions' next competitive match is on March 28, when they line up against Bahrain in their opening Group E fixture of the Asian Cup third-round qualifiers.
By then, Hariss hopes his wife and two young children would have joined him in Spain.
"I didn't get a chance to explore the city much when I was there in 2007, as it was just training and playing friendlies then," he said.
"This time, I'll be making sure that I get settled quickly so I can move my family over as soon as possible. Maybe after they arrive, we can see a bit of the city.
"But, more importantly, I want to be a good ambassador for JDT and for Singapore football."