Singapore star's A-League exploits a hit back home

Much of the talk among football fans in the city state is whether Safuwan Baharudin is going to earn an extension on his three month loan deal at Melbourne City FC, or a permanent move.

Much of the talk among football fans in the city state is whether Safuwan Baharudin is going to earn an extension on his three month loan deal at Melbourne City FC, or a permanent move.

The defender's every move has been followed closely. One editor of a respected publication said that putting the 23 year-old's adventures down under in a headline provide a great source of clicks. 

As well as the written press, there has been plenty of interest on television too. Melbourne's game have been broadcast live on Star Hub.

At the city's buzzing Clarke's Quay these days, you don't have to watch the world go by as you sink a cold beer, you can watch the Hyundai A-League.

It has been a success in other areas, especially where it matters – on the pitch. 

It's still early days but in five games in the A-League, the versatile Singaporean has two goals, a regular place in the starting line-up and plenty of acclaim. When the national team coach Bernd Stange (who will be well known to Perth Gllory fans) announced his squad, Safuwan was was the one in the headlines. That wasn't the case before the Melbourne move.

Not only that, there have been questions as to whether being called up may harm his Hyundai A-League chances. 

There is genuine pride in his exploits and the former Lions XII star has provided some sunshine to his country's football scene in the early months of 2015. His is a feelgood story after a disappointing AFF Suzuki Cup in November.

This biennial regional tournament is a very big deal and Singapore headed into the 2014 version as defending champion. Consequently, losing the final group game to bitter rivals Malaysia was bad enough but the manner of defeat was especially painful.

Singapore, playing at home, needed just a draw to progress to the semi-finals. It was not looking good when Safee Sali put Malaysia ahead. The relief could be felt all around the National Stadium when they equalised but Malaysia scored two very late goals to win 3-1. 

It was a big blow for fans but Safuwan's exploits helped take minds off regional woes.

No Singapore international has really made an impact outside the ASEAN zone. That is the hope at home and the rest of southeast Asia where Safuwan's adventures are also followed.

"It's a higher level here [in the A-League] and at times - when I'm not playing in my regular centre-back position - I've been afraid of making mistakes,” he told The New Paper earlier this month. 

“I've played in four positions now - at centre-back, left-back, right-back and defensive midfield - and I hope that I've shown that Asian players can do well here."

They already have but not in large numbers. Thailand's Sutee Suksomkit signed for Melbourne Victory in 2009 but it was Surat Sukha, similarly versatile to Safuwan, who really impressed at the same club. 

The left-back is not in the Thai team that will take on Singapore on Thursday. Now 32, he is a little old for the new youthful version of the War Elephants that impressed when winning the AFF Suzuki Cup, south-east Asia's biennial regional tournament in December.

He does, however, still play for Buriram United, the top club in Thailand and these days, the whole of south-east Asia. The north-eastern club reached the quarter-final of the 2013 Asian Champions League and is currently top of its group of the 2015 edition at the halfway stage.

A look at the Thailand Premier League and the national team shows that there is plenty of talent in the region but for Singapore it is about putting the disappointment of November behind it. 

If Safuwan can help in that, then so much the better but what fans at home really want is a permanent contract at Melbourne City.