Hariss stays with JDT I

Hariss stays with JDT I
PHOTO: The Straits Times

His national teammates ribbed him, and even fitness coach Aleksandar Bozenko joined in the teasing.

"Datuk, datuk," they called him, at the Lions' training session at the Geylang Lorong 12 pitch yesterday, as they prepared for the upcoming World Cup/Asian Cup qualifiers at home against Japan on Thursday and Syria on Nov 17.

Star midfielder Hariss Harun created history when he helped Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta'zim I win the AFC Cup last week.

The Malaysian side became the first team from ASEAN to claim the trophy, and Hariss is the first Singaporean footballer to win it.

And yesterday, Hariss, who turns 25 on Nov 19, confirmed for the first time that he has pledged his immediate future to the Malaysian team by signing a two- year contract, with the option for a two-year extension.

Hariss, who has 57 caps and four international goals, told The New Paper: "I'm very happy to play for a successful club that are moving in the right direction.

"We have won the MSL two seasons in a row and we have done well at the continental level.

"JDT have set a very high level of professionalism and as footballers here, we don't have to worry about off-the-field matters because they are all taken care of by the club.

"On the pitch, we have the quality in our team to set the standard in the MSL and other clubs will follow suit and step up to make it an even higher level of competition in Malaysia.

"Looking forward, we want to win the Malaysia Cup, defend our league title and make an impact in the AFC Champions League."

Indeed, JDT are looking to establish themselves as a regional, if not continental, powerhouse.

They will begin construction of a new 45,000-capacity stadium in Nusajaya this month and the facility is expected to be ready in three years.

The club's budget will also be improved to RM150-200 million (S$49-65m) by 2017/18.

Labelled as "one of the pillars of the team" by JDT I coach Mario Gomez, Hariss has made the central-midfield role his own alongside Malaysian maestro Safiq Rahim and the Southern Tigers have already retained their MSL crown and lifted the AFC Cup.

They are looking to complete an unprecedented season by winning the Malaysia Cup, and will face Felda United in the quarter-finals.

Strong in the tackle, indefatigable and increasingly a classic box-to-box midfield player, Hariss shone when he took on Japan's best in Saitama as the Lions came away with a shock 0-0 draw.

HIGHEST PAID

While he declined to reveal how much his contract is worth, sources from Malaysia have told TNP that the new and improved deal is worth around US$30,000 ($42,000) a month, minus bonuses, a 50 per cent increase on his previous salary, which makes him the highest-paid Singapore footballer in history.

JDT royal patron, Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, clearly thinks it is money well spent, after first sanctioning the move to lure Hariss across the Causeway in 2013.

Hariss, who has always maintained his ambition to play at the highest level possible, disagreed with the suggestion that playing in the MSL represented a lack of ambition.

The player, who rejected a move to Portugal's Rio Ave, a club in the top flight, in 2013, will be nearly 30 if he does take up the two-year option in his new contract.

"I have had discussions with the management and they are aware of my ambitions and they are supportive," said Hariss.

"There has been talk about a J.League trial, but there has been nothing concrete.

"The only offer on the table was from JDT and I want to go on, work hard and win more silverware with this club.

"If something else comes up, I'm also reassured by the fact that I can discuss it further with all parties involved, so we'll see."

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 8, 2015.
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