REPORTING FROM MATSUMOTO, JAPAN
Fingers numb, toes stiff, nose dripping, it wasn't just Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud who found the going tough on Day 3 of his training stint with J2 League side Matsumoto Yamaga yesterday.
At the Karigane Football Centre, the temperature fell to five deg C as snowflakes fell in the 20kmh winds and even the 100 fans and media who gathered to watch the 25-year-old train were heard exclaiming: "Ko rudo (cold in Japanese)!"
The fact is, goalkeepers already generate less heat than outfield players on the pitch.
In such punishing weather, muscles receive less oxygen, and the body becomes less coordinated, while the ball becomes harder to handle.
But Izwan is made of sterner stuff, as he told The New Paper: "It is better for me to experience the worst conditions and come out knowing I can do it."
Indeed, after reaching the ground ahead of the other players 90 minutes before the 2pm (Japan time) session, he spent almost half an hour to put on two tights, a sweater, a jacket, neck warmer, leggings and the customary kit, gloves and boots, before warming up on the pitch.
The drills he participated in were vastly different from what he had been used to in Singapore.
For example, the four goalkeepers in training engaged in few rounds of "monkey", using their hands to flick passes and keep the ball away from the man in the middle.
Next, they had to dive and stop a shot with their hands before adjusting their bodies to make a clearance kick.
They then had to make saves off not just with the regular-sized footballs, but also off smaller balls the size of grapefruits.
As he repeated his flying saves, Matsumoto Yamaga goalkeeping coach Honma Yasutaka couldn't help but exclaim "Subarashii!" which means wonderful in Japanese.
Izwan also put to use some of the Japanese terms he learned on this trip, shouting "migi" (right) and "hidari" (left) as he commanded the defence ahead of him in a two-sided game afterwards.
Despite limited time with his new teammates and having to deal with the biting cold, Izwan showed he was at ease with the ball, and even won the crossbar-volley challenge as the team warmed down.
After fielding autograph and wefie requests against the howling wind, he said: "It's tough. The weather, language, type of football and food are different from what we are used to in Singapore, but I can get used to this.
"The coaches and players tried to communicate with me in English and there were even fans coming from Yokohama, which is three hours away, and it's a big motivation for the players to train hard."
Matsumoto Yamaga fan Toshihiro Ishii, a 43-year-old factory worker, said: "We think he is good enough to play for us.
"If he has ambitions to play in Europe in the future, he has to overcome these wintry conditions because it's tougher in Europe.
"After his performances against Japan, where he made so many top saves in both the 0-0 draw and the 3-0 defeat, he has many fans here who hope he will play for us."
But the final say lies with the Matsumoto Yamaga officials, who are likely to make a decision after this morning's friendly match against Matsumoto University.
Goalkeeping coach Honma Yasutaka said through a translator in Japanese: "Izwan is good in shot-stopping and awareness, but still needs to improve in his footwork and positioning.
"If he can adapt in terms of the weather and communication, he can fit into our team.
"With the J.League trying to market itself to ASEAN, it will be good to have a Singaporean on board but, of course, it has to boost our club's performance too."
Izwan said: "Of course, I want to come here and achieve something, but it is ultimately up to the club. I have given my best during my time here and it has been an eye-opening experience."
David Lee's trip is sponsored by Epson Singapore.
This article was first published on December 5, 2015.
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