Will Safuwan's call-up for national team hamper his A-League career?
He has got Singaporean football fans buzzing after some outstanding performances in the A-League.
In the first two months of a three-month loan deal, Safuwan Baharudin has done enough to convince Melbourne City coach John van't Schip to start him five times in the A-League, and keep him on the pitch for the full 90 minutes in four matches.
Be it at left back, centre back or defensive midfield, the 23-year-old defender has acquitted himself well, and set local football fans buzzing over his performances.
With the regular season ending at the end of next month, Singapore's star defender Safuwan is in a race against time to impress and win a permanent deal.
Some football observers here are wondering why national football coach Bernd Stange has included Safuwan in his 20-man squad for friendlies against Thailand on Thursday and Guam next Tuesday, depriving him of a chance to further stake his claim in City's first 11.
Safuwan suffered a head injury and was forced to miss a league game, and then had to return to Singapore for the upcoming internationals, missing out on City's recent 4-0 and 1-0 victories over Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC, respectively.
He will also miss Saturday's match against Brisbane Roar, a club City have to fend off for a top-six finish to qualify for the Finals' series that take place from May.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Hougang United technical adviser, Amin Nasir, said: "National team commitments are important, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
"These are not competitive fixtures and Safuwan is already an established international.
"Bernd should know what Baihakki (Khaizan) and Safuwan can offer, and these friendlies would be good for him to see what on-form and up-and-coming players like Madhu Mohana can do, in a way to line up a long-term replacement for ageing players like Baihakki, who is already 31.
"For those of us who have watched him play in the A-League, Safuwan definitely has the potential to win a permanent deal.
"It would definitely help his case if he had stayed in Australia to fight for his place with just a few games left."
Safuwan helped City keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Wellington Phoenix.
He became the first Singaporean to score in the A-League when his goal sparked a 3-1 comeback win over Adelaide United, and grabbed another in a 3-2 loss to Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Lions are currently in Korat preparing for the friendly against AFF Suzuki Cup champions Thailand and coach Bernd Stange declined comment.
Speaking to TNP, FAS spokesman Gerard Wong said: "As part of Safuwan's three-month loan move to Melbourne City, the club had agreed to release him for Singapore's two international matches in March as these games are part of the team's preparations for the World Cup qualifiers in June.
"Melbourne City agreed to this in the knowledge that they would be playing two A-League matches during this period."
The Lions are preparing for World Cup qualifiers in June and Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic thinks Stange may want to experiment with Safuwan, considering how he has impressed in various positions with City.
But he also feels it is important for the future of Singapore football that Safuwan wins a permanent contract to play and establish himself in a top-class A-League.
"I'm not sure why the national coach has called up Safuwan, maybe he wants to try something new ahead of the World Cup qualifiers," said Kraljevic.
"On the other hand, it is very important for Safuwan to continue playing in the A-League. Young footballers here need someone to look up to and Safuwan can be that hero.
"I know he is a good player, but I didn't expect him to settle down so fast and it's amazing how well he is doing playing in all those different positions.
"Safuwan can really open doors for other Singaporeans to play in the A-League if he can get a permanent deal there."