Hariss raring to go after initial JDT struggles

Hariss raring to go after initial JDT struggles
Baihakki Khaizan undergo LionsXII team training with teammates at ITE Central, Ang Mo Kio.

In the space of a few months, he went from being one of the first names on the LionsXII team sheet to a squad player with new side Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) needing to prove his worth all over again.

No wonder Hariss Harun got the blues in his first month with the Malaysian Super League (MSL) moneybags.

"It wasn't easy for me, not getting to play regularly," the Singapore international midfielder said.

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the eve of JDT's visit to the LionsXII - the first time that he will play at the Jalan Besar Stadium as an opponent.

Signed on a lucrative deal reportedly worth US$20,000 (S$25,000) a month, Hariss initially struggled to make an impact at JDT due to a rule that allows clubs to sign four foreigners but field only three at once.

With fellow Singapore international Baihakki Khaizan as well as Argentinian stars Pablo Aimar and Luciano Figueroa also in the mix, the 23-year-old played just 34 minutes in the opening three league games.

"Players that come from countries like Brazil and Argentina, they immediately command a certain level of respect," he noted.

"Even though I'm a foreigner, coming from Singapore I was never looked at that way. I was a bit demoralised at first. Sometimes I felt it was unfair but it only spurred me to work harder."

That determination has paid off. With former World Cup star Aimar struggling for fitness and now gone from the club, Hariss was able to make one of the central midfield berths his own.

Beginning in March, he enjoyed a run of eight league starts before coming off the bench during Friday's 2-2 draw against title-chasing Pahang.

Now very much a part of coach Bojan Hodak's plans, Hariss is relishing his return to Jalan Besar.

"This is definitely the match I looked out for when the fixtures were released," he said. "I have a lot of good memories here, so it will be a very special moment."

So special, in fact, that he has been calling in favours with his former teammates by asking them if they can spare him tickets to the sold-out fixture.

One of those - right-back Faritz Hameed - has been a close friend for over seven years.

"It'll definitely be different having him on the other side," the 24-year-old acknowledged. "We know each other very well so I'm certain he'll give 100 per cent. He'll want to come here and prove something to his new club."

Having been team-mates for club and country alike for several years, LionsXII's defender Safuwan Baharudin - who will stand in as captain in place of injured Isa Halim - believes it will not be easy lining up on the opposite side from Hariss.

"It's going to be weird," he said. "Once the match starts, we have to put our friendship aside and get the job done."

This article was published on May 20 in The Straits Times.

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