Johor Crown Prince makes special trip to S'pore to convince LionsXII captain

When royalty beckons, it is hard to say no.

Last Thursday, Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail made the short trip across the Causeway and agreed terms with LionsXII skipper Shahril Ishak at the Fullerton Hotel.

The 29-year-old confirmed he will play for the Johor FA in the second-tier Malaysian Premier League (MPL) for the next two seasons.

But what convinced Shahril to move north wasn't so much about the Johor Crown Prince's personal touch than it was about the ambitions of the state.

"The Crown Prince shared with me the ambitious plans he has for football in Johor and I'm excited to be part of this project," said Shahril.

"After (Johor Darul Takzim, MSL side) signed big names like Daniel Guiza and Pablo Aimar, Johor football is now recognised in world football.

"The two clubs want to be among the biggest and most professional clubs in South-east Asia."

Shahril is not about to let slip another chance to challenge himself overseas.

Earlier this year, he had turned down Bangkok Glass' offer to continue playing for the LionsXII.

Shahril said: "I'm not saying it (staying with the LionsXII) was a mistake.

"I want to thank the FAS for the opportunity to lead the team, and the fans for their great support.

"I have given 100 per cent for the LionsXII and it is a special achievement to win my first league title with a fully Singaporean team.

"But the fact is, there were no offers from Thailand this season and I may never have another chance to challenge myself in a strong league like the Thai Premier League.

"It really is hard to say goodbye, but an opportunity like this may not come again."

It is understood the reigning ASEAN Footballer of the Year will earn twice his previous LionsXII salary.

Shahril hopes that the "market price" for Singaporean footballers will increase as more players such as Hariss Harun, Baihakki Khaizan and himself attract big-money deals abroad.

He said: "It is not uncommon for local footballers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to earn a five-figure monthly pay.

"Singapore has equally good, if not better players. I hope that young footballers here can be inspired to pursue their dreams and believe that it is possible to play football for a living if they add hard work to their talent."

Even though Shahril will feature in the second division next year, the national skipper is not worried about his national team prospects.

SIMILAR

He said: "In Malaysia, there is not much difference between the first and second division.

"Pahang were in the second division last year and they won the Malaysia Cup this year.

"Next season, the MPL will have strong teams such as Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Penang, PDRM and Sabah and it won't be easy.

"If I continue to play well, I don't see a problem getting a place in the national team."

Although Shahril has experience playing in the "crazier" Indonesian leagues with Persib Bandung and Medan Chiefs, he still feels the pressure as a foreign import.

He said: "I'm not going to Johor for a holiday. People expect foreign players to be better than locals and I have to be at my very best so that the club can be promoted to the Super League."

I hope that young footballers here can be inspired to pursue their dreams and believe that it is possible to play football for a living if they add hard work to their talent. - LionsXII captain Shahril Ishak, who will play for Johor FA next season

Get The New Paper for more stories.