Sa­fuwan pre­pares for Pa­hang but dreams of A-League re­turn

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS - Ja­son Dasey is Sin­ga­pore-based se­nior edi­tor of global foot­ball web­site ESPN FC. Twit­ter: @Ja­sonDasey

He will join Malaysian gi­ants Pa­hang for the 2018 sea­son, but there’s more than a hint that Sa­fuwan Ba­harudin’s eye is con­tin­u­ing to wan­der to­ward leagues beyond South­east Asia.

The for­mer Mel­bourne City util­ity player will link up with for­mer na­tional coach Dol­lah Salleh in Kuan­tan in what many see as a dream move.

Dol­lah, an at­tack-minded coach who has been a long-time ad­mirer of Sin­ga­pore’s Sa­fuwan, took Pa­hang to the FA Cup fi­nal last sea­son, and sec­ond place in the Malaysia Su­per League (MSL).

Sign­ing from sec­ond-tier PDRM, Sa­fuwan will play in front of big home crowds, and eas­ily slot into a suc­cess­ful side hell­bent on ri­valling four-time de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Jo­hor Darul Ta’zim.

Even so, 26-year-old Sa­fuwan be­lieves that his suc­cess­ful A-League stint in 2015 — on-loan from Sin­ga­pore’s Lions-XII — means that a re­turn to Australia as an AFC im­port will al­ways be an op­tion.

“Is the A-League an op­tion for me? Def­i­nitely, my friend,” Sa­fuwan told ESPN FC. “Def­i­nitely the A-League is an op­tion for me be­cause I put a stamp on my­self the last time I was there for al­most three months.

“It was one of the best ca­reer mo­ments that I had, play­ing in the A-League. I’ll never for­get it.”

Sa­fuwan played cen­tral mid­field and full-back dur­ing his six games in the A-League, scor­ing goals against Ade­laide United and Western Syd­ney, and mak­ing his de­but in the Mel­bourne derby.

His loan spell was cut short by a nag­ging back in­jury, but Sa­fuwan has never been vis­i­bly troubled by the prob­lem in the two-and-ahalf years since.

Soon af­ter his A-League stint in mid-2015, he was ru­mored to be on the radar of Yoko­hama F Mari­nos in the J.League, but a loan move never ma­te­ri­al­ized.

Now with 75 caps un­der his belt, and seven goals for his coun­try, he says he’s ready to as­sume an in­flu­en­tial role at Pa­hang, cap­tained by Aus­tralian-born Matthew Davies, who played 16 games for Perth Glory be­tween 2013 and 2015.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to go to a state team, es­pe­cially Pa­hang,” Sa­fuwan said.

“A few years ago, I had some con­tact with coach Dol­lah be­fore he left for PDRM and then he got the na­tional team job be­fore go­ing to [sec­ond di­vi­sion] Perlis. So it was tough be­cause I re­ally wanted to play with him.

“I’ll be play­ing in a mid­fielder role [with Pa­hang]. I hope that I can make a big im­pres­sion with Pa­hang and help them achieve what they used to achieve. We want to do as well as we can in the Malaysia Su­per League next sea­son.”

Pa­hang were a dom­i­nant Cup team un­der Dol­lah and Zainal Abidin Has­san, win­ning the 2013 Malaysia Cup and the Cup tre­ble — in­clud­ing the FA Cup and Char­ity Shield — in 2014.

De­spite eight goals in his de­but sea­son with PDRM in 2016, the Klang Val­ley-based side were rel­e­gated on the last day of their cam­paign.

Play­ing in the Malaysian sec­ond tier was not part of the plan, but Sa­fuwan made the most of the sit­u­a­tion. He be­came cap­tain of the side known as the Cops be­cause of their af­fil­i­a­tion with Malaysia’s po­lice, and scored an im­pres­sive 11 times in just 19 league matches — from mid­field.

His eye for goal, and aerial prow­ess, saw na­tional coach V. Sun­dramoor­thy ex­per­i­ment with the for­mer cen­tre-back as a striker in June’s Asian Cup qual­i­fier against Chi­nese Taipei.

“When I went to PDRM, they were play­ing in the Su­per League and they were the ones who wanted me,” Sa­fuwan ad­mit­ted.

“It was a pleas­ant two years and it was a step­ping stone for me to take the next step in the Malaysia league for next sea­son.”

Hav­ing be­gun his pro­fes­sional ca­reer as a raw 17-yearold for Young Lions in the 2009 S.League, Sa­fuwan ad­mits that he has to pinch him­self as he looks ahead to 2018. He will re­port to Kuan­tan for pre­sea­son train­ing on Dec. 11 af­ter he fin­ishes a va­ca­tion in South Africa with his young fam­ily.

Apart from the prospect of a fourth AFF Suzuki Cup cam­paign — he was a cru­cial part of the tri­umphant 2012 team — Sa­fuwan is de­lighted to be able to con­tinue to ply his trade off-shore. The ALeague, or J.League, may be the ul­ti­mate aim, but be­ing at one of Malaysia’s top clubs is a sat­is­fy­ing achieve­ment — for now.

“It’s seven years now play­ing in [the Malaysia] Su­per League. It’s an un­be­liev­able achieve­ment for me,” he said, with a sense of pride.

Ja­son Dasey

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