It was meant to be an exploratory trip, but Saifullah Akbar did so well training with the youngsters of Newcastle Jets that the A-League club promptly considered taking on the 16-year-old, who is a midfielder with Singapore's National Football Academy (NFA).
With Fifa rules on young footballers preventing a permanent move at this point, the Jets have instead opened their doors to Saifullah, who is currently in the second week of a month-long stint in Newcastle, where he has continued to turn heads.
The Jets have made clear their interest in the boy, with his parents now considering volunteering him for an early enlistment into National Service (NS) so that he can have a shot at a professional career overseas.
"He was training with the Under-16s, but he was too good for that, and now he's with the Under-18 boys and we'd like to get him involved with the youth team, and see how he does there," Jets' assistant coach Mark Jones told The New Paper recently.
The youth team are the outfit just a rung below the Jets' first team that do battle in the A-League.
Newcastle Academy director Gary van Egmond is also understood to be optimistic of Saifullah's ability to cope at a higher level, like 23-year-old Singapore international defender Safuwan Baharudin is doing with the first team of Melbourne City.
"He has more than held his own and the Jets are interested in signing him, but he cannot be registered to play for the team at this point due to Fifa rules that require his parents to be living and working here in non-football related industries," said Jones, who just last year, was coaching the Republic's NFA U-15 side, before being tempted back Down Under by the Jets.
Jones had a good look at Saifullah while the Singapore Sports School student was in the NFA U-15s, and was instrumental in linking the player with the A-League club, who are in ninth place just after the halfway mark of the 10-team competition.
"He's in the very top end of his age group - Irfan Fandi is another one in that band - and he's been to England, too. His talent is recognised not just by myself," added Jones.
The Football Association of Singapore teamed up with sponsors AirAsia and put together a stint at English Premier League side Queens Park Rangers for four local youngsters last April, including Saifullah, who also impressed there.
The youngster is a creative midfielder, and Jones said: "He's got excellent speed, good weight of a pass, can read the game well and can drift between the lines like what David Silva does for Manchester City - he is a rare talent, and we'd love to have him here (at the Jets)."
Saifullah's father Akbar Nawas, is assistant to V Sundramoorthy at S.League side Tampines Rovers, and he has made several attempts to send his protege overseas to further hone his craft, but has been hindered by regulation issues and a lack of funding.
Said Akbar: "In the Singapore context, you have to serve NS. We're planning to send him in for early enlistment at the end of this year, so he'll be done by the time he is 18; then he can go over there and have a shot at the A-League.
"Saifullah is due to take his 'N' Levels this year, but he can still do that part-time while he is in NS, or even when he's playing football."
Akbar revealed that the family has considered sending him to an academy in the United States, or FC Metz in France, and Hunter Sports High School in Australia has also been on the radar, but there have been obstacles.
"Initially the plan was to send him to the US, but it was too expensive for us, and we couldn't find a sponsor, either, so Australia was the nearest place we could afford," said Akbar.
While Akbar works to source for funds to fuel Saifullah's development, the youngster continues to impress.
"He's played a trial game with the U-16s where we played three thirds of 20 minutes, and he played 40 of those 60 minutes, and he did well," said Jones.
"We're more than happy to have him here."
He's got excellent speed, good weight of a pass, can read the game well and can drift between the lines like what David Silva does for Manchester City - he is a rare talent. - Newcastle Jets assistant coach Mark Jones, on Saifullah Akbar
This article was first published on February 17, 2015.
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