Hariss hopes for a second chance to play in Europe
It was a huge decision that stunned the local football fraternity - Hariss Harun, one of Singapore's brightest talents, spurning Portuguese top-tier side Rio Ave in July 2013.
Although the 24-year-old has no regrets over his decision, he still harbours hopes of playing in Europe one day.
"I want to play at the highest level I can with my abilities, and I will keep trying to improve myself to achieve that," the national midfielder told The New Paper in an exclusive interview.
"Since I was young, I had been looking at Europe and I'm still trying to reach that level now by aiming high and working hard beyond the level I'm at now."
Few could have dreamt of this real-life script - Nuno Espirito Santo, the manager Hariss turned down at Portuguese side Rio Ave going on to helm Valencia, owned by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, in just a year.
By any stretch of imagination, Hariss could well be plying his trade in La Liga with Valencia now, like Brazilian midfielder Filipe Augusto who is on loan from Rio Ave.
But he insists he has no regrets over his decision not to head to Portugal when he had the chance to.
"Whether it will be a regret, we will see in time to come, but I intend to finish my career with no regrets," said Hariss.
"We can all come up with a long list of what ifs but I did what I had to do then."
He explained that the uncertainty over his National Service commitment - he had about a month to go in the police force before his operationally ready date (ORD) in August 2013, but Rio Ave couldn't wait - as well as financial considerations were major factors.
Hariss said: "I know I got a lot of stick for my decision, and I understand that everyone is entitled to his opinion. But it wasn't a rash decision.
"I had a deadline and, after long talks with my family that went on late into the night, we decided that with things being unclear, it's best to complete NS.
"These were not footballing reasons, but give me the same terms after my ORD and I probably would have taken it.
"Anyway, I have put all these behind me and I'm looking forward to other possibilities.
"I read that Safuwan (Baharudin) is going to A-League for trials, and why not? The A-League is on the rise and Western Sydney just won the AFC Champions League, so it would be good."
The Johor Darul Ta'zim player impressed during the Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions' run to the Malaysia Cup final, but is also aware of the fact that venturing abroad may not be a bed of roses, after an ill-fated trial at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua in 2010.
He said: "Europe is a totally different level which I want to challenge myself in but, if I go to Europe and don't play for a year, it can backfire.
"Most likely, there will be a trial first. I had gone to Shanghai for 10 days a few years ago, but I got only 10 minutes in the second of two friendly matches.
"I'm still bitter about that because I didn't get a fair chance and I couldn't show anything.
"So if any opportunity comes, I will analyse all the factors before making a decision. I'm 24, and it's not a time to rest and relax. I'll keep working hard and see if another chance comes up.
"If not, I will continue giving 100 per cent with my current club and try to keep winning titles."
Ever since Hariss graduated from the Courts Young Lions in 2012, he has been prolific in collecting silverware - winning the Suzuki Cup with Singapore in 2012 and two MSL titles (with the LionsXII in 2013 and JDT this year).
Things are looking promising for Hariss, with Malaysian teams being allowed to field all four imports instead of just three next season, and he hopes for a good outing in his AFC Champions League debut this year.
He said: "My time at JDT has been good, even if it wasn't easy at the start, when I wasn't getting playing time.
"But that's behind me now. I'm looking forward to winning my place and there's plenty of competition with Safiq (Rahim), Junior (Eldstal), Shakir (Shaari), and Gary (Robbat) if he is joining us.
"I'm happy that all four foreigners are eligible to play now but I have to be on my toes because the coach will play only the best players.
"Even though we have to go through three playoff rounds, we hope to go far in the Champions League because it will be good for JDT, who are an ambitious club."
Hariss: U-23 boys need to buck up
PROUD PARENTS: Hariss Harun, his wife Syahirah and three-week-old son Naufal. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HARISS HARUN
1 Congratulations on becoming a father for the first time. How has parenthood changed you?
HARISS: Parenthood is a new experience and it comes with added responsibilities. For example, I'll have to learn to prepare milk, change diapers, and sometimes my sleep gets disrupted. But when I see him smile, it's all worth it.
I have to thank my wife and our families because they do most of the work. My wife takes the night shift because I have morning training sessions and I take over when I'm back from training.
I'm still learning. Before marriage, it's more of myself and looking after my parents. But now, I have to take care of my wife, kid, and both families.
I'm trying to make the best of every moment - keep working hard, have faith in God and give my son the best we can.
2 You were one of a few players who stood out at the Suzuki Cup. What clicked for you?
I was really up for it. As a team, we had a responsibility to do something for the fans because we were both hosts and defending champions.
We wanted to make the new stadium a fortress like the old one. We wanted the Kallang Roar back and it had to start with the players. I was fired up and that's what I did.
3 But what went wrong? What needs to be improved?
We were very close to qualifying for the semi-finals. If not for the late penalty for Malaysia that wasn't, we would have been through.
We can only learn and take it as a lesson. We didn't push ourselves hard enough. The second-half near collapse against Myanmar shouldn't have happened, and it was a warning sign which perhaps we didn't heed.
We have the players to build a good team, it's about how we build the mental aspect now.
It's normal after a failed campaign to have criticism. We have to move on and we can answer only with our football. Nobody talked about the failure of 2010 after we won in 2012.
But we have to aim higher. Suzuki Cup is important, but look at Thailand, they made an impression at the Asian Games. They look set to rule South-east Asia for the years to come, and that's what we have to stop.
Under Raddy (Avramovic), we did well at the Asian level. We came within a goal of qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup, we were posing problems for the big boys, and we need to re-establish that.
Under Bernd (Stange), we haven't been really successful, but we can get better.
4 One of the points brought up in the Suzuki Cup fallout was that Stange's preference for youth had backfired - the young players in the team didn't perform but kept their places in the team. What is your take on that?
I think that as footballers, when we are not challenged enough, we can become satisfied and don't improve. Your head can prevent your talent from developing. I've always believed that professional footballers should never be satisfied until you retire.
When I was 17 or 18, I was challenged by players like Mustafic (Fahrudin), John (Wilkinson), (Shi) Jiayi and Isa (Halim) in the national team and Along (Noh Alam Shah) wouldn't let any young players have an easy ride.
Once, Raddy told me not to expect to play and I was unhappy because I thought: Why would he pick me and not want me to play? But, whenever I wasn't in the matchday squad, I worked even harder.
A lot of credit has to go to Raddy for setting me up mentally to become a professional footballer.
5 Do you think that the Courts Young Lions actually breed mediocrity where players become comfortable with the status quo?
When I was with the Young Lions, I had seniors like Baihakki (Khaizan), (Khairul) Amri and Isa, who wouldn't let any opponent push us around.
We need to have someone among the senior players to take charge and not let players get comfortable. This is the national Under-23 team. They can't be finishing near the end of the table year after year.
For this year's SEA Games, the senior players like Shakir (Hamzah), Shahfiq (Ghani) and Sahil (Suhaimi) have to pick up the slack. Not many countries have a national Under-23 team in their league. The S.League should also come up with a rule that local clubs must play at least two Under-23 players in every match.
6 You came through the S.League ranks. What do you think about the state of the local league as it approaches its 20th season?
The S.League means a lot to me because it was where I started my professional career. And sometimes, those who are criticising are the people who care.
We have to make our S.League respectable again. We were happy when it was one of Asia's top 10 leagues but we are not there anymore.
The AFC criteria are there to follow and I hope we can work towards that. I look forward to the day where Singaporeans will support, and not scoff at, the S.League.