Little room for error as a foreign player: Hariss Harun
Quartet of Lions offer an insight into life in an overseas league
As Johor Darul Ta'zim's (JDT) Hariss Harun prepares to face off against Kedah's M. Anumanthan in next month's Malaysian League Charity Shield, the Singapore captain has a piece of advice for his compatriot - there is little room for error.
Hariss is already looking forward to locking horns with Anu as last year's Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions JDT take on runners-up Kedah for the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Cup on Feb 26.
The match could also signal the start of Anu's first overseas sojourn, but Hariss has warned the 26-year-old to prepare for a tough induction, though he remains confident Anu has the character to overcome the odds, as he had seven years ago.
"There is a certain expectation of you when you come in as a foreign player," Hariss, 30, told The New Paper.
"As a local player, you have a bit of leeway. But, when you are a foreign player, the room or space for mistakes is less.
"The players, staff and fans would have watched clips of Anu on YouTube, so now it is about getting the job done, earning the respect from his peers and endearing himself to fans."
Citing himself as an example, Hariss described how he joined the seven-time MSL champions as a "relative unknown" and initially struggled to nail down a midfield spot in the starting XI.
"The league is a step up and it was a learning curve for me," Hariss said of the MSL.
"I was a starter in my clubs in Singapore and the national team, so to come here and compete for a place with (former Argentina international) Pablo Aimar and (ex-Malaysia captain) Safiq Rahim was a huge challenge.
"I had to bite my tongue, keep positive and believing in myself.
"For Anu, other than meeting the standard expected of him, I don't see much of an issue in his transition from the SPL."
Singaporean forward Iqbal Hussain is another who is embarking on his maiden overseas stint, having signed for Indian club Chennai City last month.
Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who spent four years with Army United in the Thai League, also shared how winning over new foreign teammates may not be easy.
"In Thailand, language and food were issues I had to deal with, in addition to missing my family," said the 36-year-old Lion City Sailors custodian.
"But the biggest challenge was proving that you are there on merit. Logically, you have to be better than the locals when you sign as a foreigner.
"When I first joined, my teammates were dying to score against me in training. Every goal I let in, they were shouting at me, asking me 'what is this?'.
"So I had to stay mentally strong and took it as a test."
Fellow Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who plies his trade with Thai League 1 (T1) outfit Samut Prakan City, added that players need to be prepared for unexpected circumstances.
Last April, when Izwan was with T1 side Trat, his pay was cut by 50 per cent as part of cost-reducing measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Then, in June, the 30-year-old's contract was terminated, leaving him jobless and concerned that 2020 would be a write-off.
He said: "It is important to keep an open mind, to stay positive and be prepared... players' expectations and hopes can be dashed with no warning...
"With Covid-19, many clubs have been more unstable than they have ever been in the last decade."
Added club and national teammate Zulfahmi Arifin: "You need to have a strong support system to help you get through the difficult times."