Singapore-born Dominic Tan opts for Tigers over Lions
Singapore-born permanent resident says he has always dreamt of playing for Malaysia
Having come up through the ranks of Singapore's National Football Academy (NFA) age-group outfits, Dominic Tan's dream of playing for the national team was finally fulfilled earlier this month.
But it was not the red kit of the Lions that Tan donned.
Instead, he was clad in yellow and black - the colours of Malaysia - as he made his debut for the Tigers against Nepal in an international friendly on June 2.
The 22-year-old centre-back, who was born here and is a Singapore permanent resident, told The New Paper that he has always wanted to represent only Malaysia.
Said Tan, who lived in Bishan for 16 years, and went to Ai Tong School and the Singapore Sports School (SSP): "My parents are Malaysian and I am Malaysian.
"For me, it had always been something that I dreamt of ( playing for Malaysia).
"At the start of the year, I set myself a target to make my debut and I am very happy to have met it.
"It was a proud moment for me and a big motivation to work harder and be a regular in the national team."
Tan had been with the NFA Under-15 and U-16 teams before making the decision to take his boots across the Causeway to Johor when he was 16.
His then-NFA U-16 coach, Robin Chitrakar, linked him up with Harimau Muda C, a feeder side for the national team, after learning of Tan's desire to represent Malaysia.
Said Chitrakar, 42, who is head of youth at Hougang United: "I did talk to him and ask him why he didn't want to play for Singapore. Ultimately, it was his personal decision.
"He had the potential, attitude and talent. I am delighted for him that he has gone on to achieve his goal."
Tan's stock is only rising.
Last week, he secured a loan move from parent club, Johor Darul Ta'zim to Thailand League 1 side, Trat FC, where he could line up alongside Singapore's Baihakki Khaizan.
"It is a wise decision for him to come over here and get out of his comfort zone," said Baihakki.
On whether Singapore could have missed out on a talent, Baihakki, 35, said: "I feel he would have been a gain for us, but I think we have always had good centre-backs in the national team.
"I am just happy that he has developed well."
Malaysia U-22 coach Ong Kim Swee will be hoping to rely on Tan's talent at the year-end SEA Games in the Philippines.
Ong offered an insight into why the 1.83m Tan may have ultimately opted for the Tigers.
"Firstly, he will be an asset to any team," said Ong. "He has the ability to fit in a back three or back four. He is a physically strong and technical defender.
"In Singapore, you have national service, which can be a hiccup in terms of the development of a player.
"Young players need to be training and playing regularly and, for Dominic, I think that was crucial."
While Tan may have picked Malaysia, it is clear that Singapore retains a place in his heart.
On his verified Instagram page, Tan has both the Singapore and Malaysia flags on his profile.
He also regularly meets up with his former NFA teammates like Zharfan Rohaizad, Irfan Fandi, Lionel Tan and Joshua Pereira.
"It's always good to go back and see my friends, who I am still very close with," he said.
"I have great memories from training in Singapore.
"The SSP was really good for me in my development and I will always be grateful for that."