By the time the LionsXII take to the field against Felda United in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) on Aug 2, Safuwan Baharudin may well already be a Yokohama Marinos player.
But, coach Fandi Ahmad believes that the improvements he has seen in what is now a full-strength squad, will be able to carry them through at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Speaking on the sidelines of the H-TWO-O/ITE's Ultimate Champions League Exemplary Player Award ceremony at The Ballroom at East Coast last night, Fandi remained upbeat despite being in the dark on negotiations between the J-League side and former Melbourne City player Safuwan.
"We've got no update on whether he is staying or leaving, so I'm just taking it that he's staying and including him in our plans," said Fandi.
"In football we're used to having players come and go and if he does leave, others just have to step up, and I think they can.
"There's been a lot of improvement in our level of play, commitment and even discipline. We're playing at the level that we want, and the aim is to maintain that."
At an informal dinner setting, Fandi presented trophies to Kaviarasan Jayatheran (ITE College Central), Tan Hoong Yuen (West) and Sabran Abdul Rahman (East), who won a trip to Spain - pencilled in for September - where they will witness a training session of Real Madrid's youth team, and meet their coaches, and possibly catch the Galacticos in action at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A laid-back Fandi was optimistic as he looked ahead to the rest of the MSL season, and the Malaysia Cup to follow.
"Izzdin Shafiq has been superb this season, Nazrul Nazari, Hafiz Sujad, even Madhu Mohana and Faris Ramli, have all been playing well, and now we have Shahdan Sulaiman - one of our key players - at about 80 per cent of his best," said the former Singapore captain.
"In the last few games, whether we won, lost or drew, we've been playing good passing football, and we want to keep doing that."
Fandi seems to have successfully converted Nazrul from a winger to a marauding right-back, and he is now experimenting with forward Sahil Suhaimi in a central midfield position.
"He's got something special, speed, and an ability to run at defenders, but it's hard to say what his best position is - he's not exactly a central striker, playmaker or a winger.
"We just want him to mature and play not just individual football, but also good team football - that's what we're about," said Fandi, who is looking to balance fitness work with tactical preparation for the Felda game.
"Some of the players are rusty, others are lacking match fitness, but next week we will start to focus on what we need to do as a team against Felda," said Fandi, who led the LionsXII to glory in the Malaysian FA Cup.
"Felda will be a tough match and we have to approach it like we have in many games this season - with teamwork."
This article was first published on July 25, 2015.
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