Melbourne stint gives Safuwan invaluable experience

Melbourne stint gives Safuwan invaluable experience
Safuwan Baharudin at the LionsXII's Friday morning training session at Jalan Besar, before the team left for Selayang.

TURNING an apparent negative into a positive is all part of what wide-eyed Safuwan Baharudin sees as the ultimate football education at Melbourne City FC.

The Singapore utility player continues to attract attention as his nation's first export to the A-League after joining the Victoria-based club on loan from the LionsXII last month.

He is soaking up every second of what is expected to be a 12-match stint in Australia's domestic competition - it could turn into a permanent deal if the 23-year-old continues to do well.

After starting in City's first two games after the AFC Asian Cup break, he was benched for last Sunday's home match against Perth Glory, but refused to let himself get disappointed.

"It was good being on the bench, having another experience and having a look at what Perth Glory is," he said. "I've come into a new environment and I couldn't ask for more. I just have to be patient, hopefully things will come my way."

As a reminder of the kind of company he is now keeping, Safuwan lost his place in Sunday's starting line-up to former Dutch international Kew Jaliens, who was picked at right full-back after his move from the Newcastle Jets. The ex-Eredivisie star was a team-mate of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben at the 2006 World Cup.

The cashed-up sister club of Manchester City are just outside the A-League's top six on goal difference and have no shortage of other big names that Safuwan says he is being inspired by, even after the departure last November of former Spain striker David Villa following a four-game guest stint.

For his debut on Feb 7 against Melbourne Victory, Safuwan's team-mates included ex-Premier League players Damien Duff and Robert Koren. When he was substituted in the second half after starting as a central midfielder, his place was taken by former Bundesliga striker Josh Kennedy, who has played in two World Cups.

Some may say these 30-something veterans have seen better days, but Safuwan says their vintage merely makes him respect them more.

"They are the ones who get the team going. It was a dream come true getting to play alongside Damien Duff but unfortunately he's now out due to injury. Even at the age they are coming in now, it's hard for them, but they're still giving 100 per cent for the love of football."

He has earned praise from coach John van't Schip for his versatility - playing in both midfield and defence - and for the way he has quickly jelled with his team-mates, since impressing as a triallist in two games on City's January training tour of the United Arab Emirates.

In a matter of weeks, he had played in the Middle East, made his debut in a derby against Melbourne Victory before more than 40,000 fans and played a match in chilly New Zealand.

Whether or not his loan deal turns into a full-time contract, the experience will almost certainly turn into a career-defining one.

"It was a blessing in disguise (to make my debut in the derby). It was intense, everything was heating up in the changing room. You know, the players were hyped up to get going," he said.

"Then we had to travel to Wellington for three hours, having to settle down in the cold weather. It was different to Melbourne. It was challenging because I had to deal with the wind, had to deal with the pitch, had to deal with the environment."

Safuwan is reluctant to talk about his chances of staying in Melbourne beyond the three-month loan deal. The A-League season finishes in May and that is when he would be due to return to LionsXII.

"I'm not too sure about the future. I'm taking it just one day at a time," he said.

"I've been working really hard. I've got back from training, straight to the gym, pool, recovery. I've been doing whatever it takes to just be on the pitch."

Jason Dasey is senior editor of ESPN FC, Singapore's most popular football website, which has launched a South-east Asia edition. Twitter: @ESPNFC

stsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 25, 2015.
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