After rejecting several offers to play abroad over the past few years, national defender Safuwan Baharudin is finally ready to make a move for greener pastures.
The New Paper understands that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has made plans for the 23-year-old LionsXII centre back to attend trials with A-League clubs next month, before the Malaysian Super League (MSL) kicks off on Jan 31.
Safuwan, widely regarded as one of the best defenders in South-east Asia, told TNP yesterday: "When things like this happen, I'm more than happy to go for the trials.
"At the moment, I haven't heard which team I'm going to for trials yet. If it happens, it will be a good opportunity for me."
Safuwan has impressed for both club and country over the last three years. He won the MSL title with the LionsXII last year and, in the process, earned admiring glances from Malaysian teams like Terengganu and Sarawak.
But he turned down the offers to stay with the Singaporean side.
The 1.81-metre defensive lynchpin, known for his reading of the game, good leap, pace, stamina and even eye for goals, now feels the time is ripe to expand his horizon.
"There's no more holding back now. If an A-League team want me, then it's a 100 per cent 'yes' from me," said Safuwan.
"I have been holding back for the past two years where I have turned down offers from the region due to personal reasons.
"I'm 24 next year, and I feel this is the right time to venture out and see how far I can go. I've spoken to my wife about this and she is supportive."
However, it is not immediately clear what will happen to his LionsXII contract if there is an A-League offer.
When contacted, the FAS did not comment directly on Safuwan's impending trials in Australia.
But its spokesman Gerard Wong said: "The FAS is pleased to note that our youth and senior players are increasingly attracting attention from clubs around Asia and Europe.
"It reinforces our belief that our players have the talent and ability to play professional football at a higher level.
"On our part, the FAS will always seek opportunities for our players to ply their trade overseas as part of our constant efforts to help them realise their full potential."
If an A-League move does materialise for Safuwan, it could leave the LionsXII shorn of their best centre back, with Afiq Yunos, utility man Wahyudi Wahid, right back Madhu Mohana and 20-year-old Faris Azienuddin as cover.
LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad said: "If Safuwan gets an A-League offer, I would wish him all the best because I know it is a big opportunity.
"I would have a headache as LionsXII coach because he is a key player, but we will have to cope and adapt."
Recent friendlies - a 2-0 win over PKNS FC and a 0-0 draw with Negeri Sembilan - have given Fandi reasons to be more optimistic, even though there are still injury concerns for Shahdan Sulaiman, Isa Halim, Raihan Rahman, Faritz Abdul Hameed and Gabriel Quak.
"There are good signs. The newcomers are adapting and we did quite well with two clean sheets in the two away friendlies," said Fandi.
"We worked on our defence for the last two matches and we defended very well as a team. We do lack depth but, the good thing is, we still have one month to recover from injuries."
Safuwan added: "Even if it's pre-season, it's encouraging to produce good results away from home.
"We definitely want to finish better than last season (the LionsXII were eighth out of 12 teams), and I feel we are capable of that."
This article was first published on December 23, 2014.
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