Skipper Hariss Harun scales new heights in Asia
Singapore captain lauded by Johor Darul Ta'zim's technical director after their maiden campaign in the Asian Champions League
Growing up playing football on the hard courts of Whampoa and Toa Payoh, Hariss Harun would not have envisioned going toe to toe and excelling against former English Premier League players such as Marouane Fellaini and Graziano Pelle in the Asian Champions League (ACL).
While Hariss' club Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) may have bowed out of their maiden ACL campaign after a 2-0 loss to South Korea's Gyeongnam FC yesterday, he deemed the experience as being "very crucial" to his and his side's development.
"It is the highest level of club football in Asia and I think the team and I have learnt so much from our first season in the ACL," said 28-year-old midfielder, who captains JDT and the Singapore national team.
"Personally, it's been a long journey, starting out from street soccer courts and void decks to now being able to lead a team in this competition.
"Each team represented different challenges for us and to play at these stadiums and against these players has been a really great experience for me as a player.
" I just hope to continue at this level and give my best in every game for club and country."
Last night's result meant that JDT finished bottom of Group E with four points from six games. But the Malaysian side have made life difficult for the big guns they faced.
Earlier this month, JDT beat defending champions Kashima Antlers 1-0 at the Larkin Stadium, with Hariss becoming the first Singaporean to feature in a winning team in the ACL since SAFFC (now known as Warriors FC) beat China's Henan Jianye 2-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in 2010.
The Malaysian side also narrowly lost 1-0 to Chinese side Shandong Luneng, who have former Manchester United midfielder Fellaini and ex-Southampton striker Pelle in their ranks.
JDT technical director Alistair Edwards told TNP that playing in the ACL has greatly benefited his captain.
He said: "His (Hariss) performances this season have reached new heights. He's been integral to our success.
"Singapore should be very proud of him and his form really augurs well for the Lions.
"He really is a model professional on and off the field and I'd say that he has been the best or if not one of the best players on our team this season."
With lessons learnt from their first foray into the ACL, JDT are on course to qualify for next season's competition as well.
The Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions gain automatic entry into the ACL group stages from this year.
JDT currently top the MSL, with a 10-point lead over second-placed Pahang.
"The overall performance in our debut season has been encouraging, but we have been naive at certain moments, especially when playing at home," said Hariss, who has two years left on his contract.
"It has been a good campaign but we must make sure that we correct our mistakes."