By Sanjay Nair(ST)
Safuwan Baharudin wants a second shot at the A-League and has urged more of his compatriots to test themselves further afield.
The defender made regional headlines in January by being the first Singaporean to play in Australia's top league, joining Melbourne City on a three-month loan. However, he returned prematurely in April after suffering a back injury.
"I have unfinished business there, I would love to return to Melbourne if they want me," the 23-year-old told The Straits Times. "If another A-League club comes calling, I would consider it too, even if it's a short-term contract."
Yesterday, Safuwan - who was also the first Asean player to play in the A-League since Thai forward Sutee Suksomkit in 2009 - received some encouraging news from Down Under.
In an interview with ESPN FC, Melbourne City captain Patrick Kisnorbo said the Singaporean was "too good to not be playing overseas", referring to him as "a great player who can play in the A-League with any club".
The former Australia international praised his versatility and desire to learn - traits which made Safuwan a quick fan favourite at the sister club of former English champions Manchester City.
In six A-League appearances in a variety of positions, he scored twice and earned a Man-of-the- Match award, helping Melbourne City achieve their highest-ever finish of fifth.
Safuwan was all set to feature in their play-off run alongside team-mates such as former Chelsea star Damien Duff until he injured his spine against Wellington Phoenix on April 12.
The Singapore international was ruled out of the rest of the A-League season, and was subsequently released from his contract.
Yet, he returned to LionsXII duty in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) within two weeks, sparking rumours of personal issues or his inability to settle in Melbourne.
Safuwan denied the claims, noting how his wife Alia Qistina had given up her air stewardess job to stay at their furnished two-bedroom apartment in the Docklands.
"I had - and still have - the goal of living in Melbourne for a long time," said the former Singapore Sports School student, whose contract with the LionsXII expires at the end of the season.
"Australia has one of the best leagues in Asia and I want to test myself away from home.
"We need more Singaporeans playing around the world to boost our profile and improve our skills."
It is perhaps a different mindset from Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun, who reportedly turned down a move to Portuguese side Rio Ave in 2013, in favour of a more lucrative deal with MSL champions Johor Darul Takzim.
LionsXII goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud - also a Johor target - faces a similar choice after being offered a trial at J-League club Matsumoto Yamaga following his stellar display in the Lions' 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw against Japan earlier this month.
Safuwan's own prospects look promising ahead of the new A-League season, which will kick off in October.
Just two of the 10 teams have filled their quota of five foreign players so far. Melbourne City, coached by Dutchman John van't Schip, have two available slots.
Safuwan had earned his first stint after impressing in the club's mid-season training camp that was held in Abu Dhabi.
He said: "I don't think I need another trial. I hope my time there has proven my ability to mix it with the best in Australia.
"My message to them is, 'Come and get me, I'm listening'."
Source: Straits Times