Football: Izwan's judgment call: Play for Yamaga or play safe?

Eleven days after returning to Singapore from a week-long training stint with Matsumoto Yamaga, Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud could be going back to Japan soon - for a longer stay.

The Straits Times understands that talks are progressing well between the Japanese club and the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) for a deal for the 25-year-old to play in Japan, with both player and club keen on the move.

But while the club are almost certain they want Izwan as their first South-east Asian import, they have yet to decide if they can guarantee him a first-choice slot.

Matsumoto, who were relegated from the J-League this year and will play in Japan's second tier next season, are keen for their current No. 1 goalkeeper Tomohiko Murayama, 28, to slug it out with Izwan for a first XI spot.

A key consideration for Izwan would then be whether a place on the bench in 2016 would cost him his starting slot for the national team in an ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup year.

However, while staying in Singapore or joining a regional team would grant him first-team football, his chances of impressing clubs in the bigger foreign leagues would be greatly diminished.

Izwan, who is also in talks with S-League club Tampines Rovers and Thai Premier League team Chonburi FC, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A statement released by the FAS yesterday read: "We have been discussing the various options with Izwan. The best interests of the players, including their welfare and development in the game, will always be a priority to us."

During his time in Matsumoto, Izwan trained thrice with the first team and played in a friendly match, keeping a clean sheet.

Yamaga officials are said to be impressed with the Singaporean's attitude in training, and coach Yasuharu Sorimachi had said that, despite the language barrier and chilly weather conditions, he was on a par with the club's goalkeepers.

The Singaporean is also popular with the fans.His week-long training stint was filled with impromptu autograph sessions, as scores of supporters showed up at the training ground to catch him in action.

Izwan's stock first skyrocketed in June after he put in an inspired shift in goal, making 18 saves to help Singapore secure a 0-0 draw against Japan in their 2018 World Cup qualifying clash in Saitama.

His heroics caught the eye of Yamaga's vice-president Yoshiyuki Kato, who indicated that his club were keen to see Izwan up close.

The former LionsXII custodian also logged a fine shift when the Republic lost 0-3 to Japan at the National Stadium in the return fixture last month. The performance saw him being personally congratulated by Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

This article was first published on December 18, 2015.
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