REPORTING FROM MATSUMOTO, JAPAN
As a former J.League midfielder with 11 years of top-flight experience, Yoshiyuki Kato knows a good goalkeeper when he sees one.
The 51-year-old Matsumoto Yamaga vice-president is also a good judge of character.
Which is why Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud stands a good chance of becoming the Republic's first J.League footballer.
After watching Izwan come on in the second half and keep a clean sheet in Yamaga's 5-1 win over Matsumoto University at the Karigane Football Centre yesterday, Kato told The New Paper: "As of now, things are looking positive.
"Izwan is not the tallest goalkeeper around. But, compared to Japanese goalkeepers, he is better in his judgment and shot-stopping.
"We met Izwan for dinner on his first night here and we were impressed with his personality and how willing he was to absorb the Japanese culture.
"Also crucial for us is how easily he has fit in to the Japanese lifestyle because a J.League footballer has to be professional not just on the pitch, but also off the pitch when we have our club activities.
"It is important that he is able to integrate with our team, and also that he is able to stay constantly motivated."
In front of 400 fans - TNP was told fans do attend training sessions but rarely in such numbers - Izwan was never really tested against inferior opponents, although they did manage to open the scoring after 15 minutes against Yamaga goalkeeper Niall Killoran.
In fact, some fans were seen at times urging the opponents to attack in a bid to see Izwan's heroics first-hand, but to no avail.
Later, the 25-year-old spent almost an hour signing autographs and posing for wefies.
With his week-long training stint - made possible by Epson Singapore - coming to a close after the friendly, Izwan expressed his desire to return to Matsumoto.
"I am happy to complete my first 45 minutes playing for Matsumoto Yamaga, keeping a clean sheet in the second half," he said.
"The opponents were technically sound, but my team are a J.League side after all, and I wasn't really troubled.
"I had a great time here, learnt a lot of new things, made many new friends, and I'm sad that I have to leave Matsumoto for now. I will miss the club, the team, the city and the fans, who have all made me feel very much at home this past week.
"It's flattering that there's interest from Matsumoto Yamaga, Tampines Rovers and Chonburi, but at the same time it's unsettling because I'm out of contract at the moment.
"I hope this won't be the last time I'm here and I hope to hear positive news from the club and come back soon."
Kato told TNP that the club will make a decision next month after discussions with the technical staff and Izwan, before the new season kicks off at the end of February.
He added: "There has never been a Singaporean footballer in the J.League so if he joins, we will be happy to be part of this piece of history and help increase the J.League and Matsumoto Yamaga's profile in Singapore and the region.
"When Singaporean footballers or those from other countries come and play in the J.League and improve, we also hope that when they go back, they can contribute to their home countries and help develop local football there with their experience and lessons learnt."
It is understood that the Ptarmigans could also be planning to visit Singapore in June after the first round of league fixtures.
This article was first published on December 6, 2015.
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