SINGAPORE - Many in the fraternity were stunned when Singapore and LionsXII vice-captain Hariss Harun rejected an offer to play for top-flight Portuguese club Rio Ave four months ago.
Over the last couple of months, there has been much speculation the Singapore midfield star would move to ambitious Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Johor Darul Takzim (JDT).
Hariss, 22, has consistently refused to address why he turned down the chance to play in Europe, and the talk of a move across the Causeway.
Speaking to The New Paper last night, he confirmed he had signed a two-year deal with JDT, and insisted he did not turn down Rio Ave because of his recent engagement.
"A lot of people think that I turned that offer down because I was planning to get married," Hariss said.
"But that is not the case. I won't reveal my reasons why, but I will say that I have never allowed my personal life to affect my career decisions. I keep those two things separate."
Moneybags JDT are bankrolled by the Crown Prince of Johor, Tengku Ismail Idris, the club president.
He has hired former Valencia and Atletico Madrid boss Cesar Ferrando Jimenez as coach.
Former Argentina and Valencia star Pablo Aimar has also been snapped up to boost the attack.
When asked if he chose to make the move across the Causeway because of money, Hariss smiled and said: "Money is always a sensitive issue. I'm a professional footballer, money is important, but it is not the main thing.
"If a club sat me down and simply offered a big contract, it doesn't mean I'll sign no matter what.
"I have to also look at other factors, like the club's plans and how I fit in."
Hariss added that he was attracted to JDT's ambition and long-term plans, as put forth by Tengku Ismail during negotiations.
The club plan to expand their Larkin Stadium home base and establish an academy next year.
"The main reason I chose to go is for a new challenge," Hariss explained.
"People have asked me why Malaysia - it's the same as Singapore. But I'll be going there as a foreign import, which means I have to perform better than everyone else week in, week out.
"I'm relishing the challenge. There's no telling how high a level I can reach playing under that type of pressure.
"Plus, the MSL is getting very competitive. It's going to get better now that all the Malaysian clubs are signing foreign stars."
Before he gets to grips with life as a foreign signing, Hariss will spearhead the Singapore Under-23s challenge at next month's South-east Asia Games in Myanmar.
The team are currently working with coach Aide Iskandar and national supremo Bernd Stange in preparation for the challenge.
Speaking on the sidelines of their training session at the Geylang Field yesterday, Stange said he was pleased that Hariss will be under the tutelage of Jimenez next year, who he says "shares the exact same football philosophy".
"It's good to have Hariss play so close to home. I have only asked him to keep a small window open for the ASEAN Super League (ASL) in the future," said the German coach.
"That's my advice to him. We hope to have him back when the ASL starts."
The ASL is set to kick-off in 2015 and Hariss said he would be more than keen to be a part of it.
"My ultimate ambition will always be to play in Europe," he said.
"Right now, I'm just looking to improve myself in my new adventure."
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