Together with Baihakki Khaizan, they became the most formidable central defensive partnership in South-east Asia, and helped Singapore win a record fourth Suzuki Cup crown in 2012.
If Baihakki was the tough hombre, a no-nonsense player who played physically and never shirked a challenge, then Safuwan Baharudin was the elegant one, who read the game superbly, passed his way out of trouble to kick off his side's attacks and who also could time a jump superbly to score goals at the other end.
They were together when the LionsXII finished second in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) in the team's debut in the competition in 2012.
They were imperious when V Sundramoorthy's team stunned the football fraternity on both sides of the Causeway when they stormed to the MSL title in 2013.
Sundram, now coach of S.League giants Tampines Rovers, has seen the 23-year-old develop from a skinny Young Lions protege into one of the top defenders in the region.
The former Singapore star, who himself played for Swiss side FC Basel in 1988, was bursting with joy when The New Paper informed him yesterday that Safuwan was set to sign a contract with A-League outfit Melbourne City FC for the second half of the season Down Under.
Said Sundram: "I am very, very happy and proud of him. He has improved tremendously over the years.
"From the S.League, to the MSL and now he's set to join a big team in Australia. He's proved himself to be way ahead of most of his peers and it's showing now."
Safuwan had joined the Australian club on their mid-season tour of Abu Dhabi and by all accounts performed well in two friendlies against Al_Jazira and Dnipro.
Baihakki expressed his confidence that Safuwan will settle in well Down Under.
"Pressure will definitely be on him, that's for sure. But he should enjoy himself. He's going to be playing real football with real professionals, and his mindset will surely change for the better," said the 31-year-old, who is playing pro football with Malaysian Premier League side Johor Darul Ta'zim II.
"He'll adapt gradually and I'm sure he'll be a success."
This season's A-League feature veteran foreign stars like Robert Koren, Matthieu Delpierre and Damien Duff, who will be a teammate of Safuwan at City.
Sundram hopes this will be just a stepping stone to bigger things for Safuwan.
"As a Singaporean, it feels very good to see my countryman make this huge leap," said the 49-year-old.
"It will be a very physical game down there, so it's an excellent opportunity for him to get even better.
"I do hope he makes the most of this chance and eventually prove his worth before moving on to European football."
More than just being the country's next big football star, Baihakki wants Safuwan to be viewed as an example for the current and subsequent generation of players.
"He's done very well for himself, and he can be a big influence," said Baihakki.
"For us other footballers, we've got to pull our weight.
"Safuwan shouldn't be alone in playing at that high level. We all need to step forward and go up together."
This article was first published on Jan 25, 2015.
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