It was a huge decision that stunned the local football fraternity - Hariss Harun, one of Singapore's best brightest talent, spurning Portuguese top-tier side Rio Ave in July 2013.
Although the 24-year-old has no regrets over his decision, he still harbours hopes of playing in Europe one day.
"I want to play at the highest level I can with my abilities, and I will keep trying to improve myself to achieve that," the national midfielder told The New Paper in an exclusive interview.
"Since I was young, I had been looking at Europe and I'm still trying to reach that level now by aiming high and working hard beyond the level I'm at now."
Few could have dreamt of this real-life script - Nuno Espirito Santo, the manager Hariss turned down at Portuguese side Rio Ave going on to helm Valencia, owned by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, in just a year.
By any stretch of imagination, Hariss could well be plying his trade in La Liga with Valencia now, like Brazilian midfielder Filipe Augusto who is on loan from Rio Ave.
But he insists he has no regrets over his decision not to head to Portugal when he had the chance to.
"Whether it will be a regret, we will see in time to come, but I intend to finish my career with no regrets," said Hariss.
"We can all come up with a long list of what ifs but I did what I had to do then."
He explained that the uncertainty over his National Service commitment - he had about a month to go in the police force before his operationally ready date (ORD) in August 2013, but Rio Ave couldn't wait - as well as financial considerations were major factors.
Hariss said: "I know I got a lot of stick for my decision, and I understand that everyone is entitled to his opinion. But it wasn't a rash decision.
"I had a deadline and, after long talks with my family that went on late into the night, we decided that with things being unclear, it's best to complete NS.
"These were not footballing reasons, but give me the same terms after my ORD and I probably would have taken it.
"Anyway, I have put all these behind me and I'm looking forward to other possibilities.
"I read that Safuwan (Baharudin) is going to A-League for trials, and why not? The A-League is on the rise and Western Sydney just won the AFC Champions League, so it would be good."
The Johor Darul Ta'zim player impressed during the Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions' run to the Malaysia Cup final, but is also aware of the fact that venturing abroad may not be a bed of roses, after an ill-fated trial at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua in 2010.
He said: "Europe is a totally different level which I want to challenge myself in but, if I go to Europe and don't play for a year, it can backfire.
"Most likely, there will be a trial first. I had gone to Shanghai for 10 days a few years ago, but I got only 10 minutes in the second of two friendly matches.
"I'm still bitter about that because I didn't get a fair chance and I couldn't show anything.
"So if any opportunity comes, I will analyse all the factors before making a decision. I'm 24, and it's not a time to rest and relax. I'll keep working hard and see if another chance comes up.
"If not, I will continue giving 100 per cent with my current club and try to keep winning titles."
Ever since Hariss graduated from the Courts Young Lions in 2012, he has been prolific in collecting silverware - winning the Suzuki Cup with Singapore in 2012 and two MSL titles (with the LionsXII in 2013 and JDT this year).
Things are looking promising for Hariss, with Malaysian teams being allowed to field all four imports instead of just three next season, and he hopes for a good outing in his AFC Champions League debut this year.
He said: "My time at JDT has been good, even if it wasn't easy at the start, when I wasn't getting playing time.
"But that's behind me now. I'm looking forward to winning my place and there's plenty of competition with Safiq (Rahim), Junior (Eldstal), Shakir (Shaari), and Gary (Robbat) if he is joining us.
"I'm happy that all four foreigners are eligible to play now but I have to be on my toes because the coach will play only the best players.
"Even though we have to go through three playoff rounds, we hope to go far in the Champions League because it will be good for JDT, who are an ambitious club."
This article was first published on January 1, 2015.
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