Signing for an A-League side was the first step, but now Safuwan Baharudin has to win and hold down a first team place. Jordan Lim takes a look at the men in his way...
It's been less than a week since he made the move Down Under, but Safuwan is a chance to make his A-League debut for Melbourne City today against Western Sydney Wanderers.
Making an appearance and keeping his spot in the first team are two different things though, and while the defender has been capped 43 times for Singapore and was a star turn for parent club LionsXII in the Malaysia Super League, it all count for little in Australia.
The 23-year-old is hoping to enhance his burgeoning reputation during this three month loan stint, and Sunday's clash against WSW represents the first opportunity to do so.
In order to earn his first team stripes however, there’s a number of players that he must first displace, but with Melbourne City’s defensive struggles this season – particularly in both fullback positions, where the Australian side lack a naturally wide defender – he may well be pushed straight into the fray, albeit most likely at right-back.
While many players in the Melbourne City squad have seen their versatility hinder their development, Safuwan’s may very well play in his favour. Not particularly known as a right-back, he will most likely find himself at the top of the pecking order in that position.His lighter frame however may put off the Melbourne hierarchy from playing him as a first choice centre-back.
The natural right-footer is both pacey and versatile enough to play the wider position and will offer a more defensively stable option to what is currently on offer for City.
Jason Hoffman is the current starting right-back, a player who joined the club as a forward but was converted to a defender by coach John van ‘t Schip.The 26-year-old’s work rate is unquestioned, but as far as the supporters are concerned, he lacks the defensive nous to be a viable option in defence, and has played the majority of the season purely due to a lack of options.
Used as a stopgap solution, City have experimented with centre-backs Ross Archibald and Robbie Wielaert on that problem right side. Archibald, the youth team captain, has been exposed at senior level in his non-preferred position, while the 36-year-old Wielaert no longer has the legs to play in the more demanding fullback role, despite his European experience in the Dutch top flight. Neither player adds the attacking threat required to aid former English Premier League winger Damien Duff on the right side, and Safuwan may well provide the vital balance between attack and defence.
His opportunities in the centre of defence may be less forthcoming however, with a number of bigger bodies – who have all stood up to the rigours of the physical Australian league competition – seemingly ahead of him.
Including the aforementioned pairing of Ross Archibald and Rob Wielaert, the Sky Blues have three senior centre backs on their books, with ample back-up in the form of youth league players and makeshift centre-halves.
Captain Patrick Kisnorbo has been a rock in the centre of defence for City, with the former Socceroo the best performing defender in the squad throughout the season to date. His no nonsense approach, strong aerial ability and his knack of throwing everything at the ball has won over the fans, and the popular centre-half looks to be a permanent fixture in the side.
Promising defender and Young Socceroo Connor Chapman has battled injury and illness since signing from fellow A-League side Newcastle Jets last May, and has finally gotten back on the park over the last two months. His speed and developed football brain – which belies his 20 years – has seen him secure a first team spot in the heart of defence. Chapman and Kisnorbo look to be the first choice centre-half pairing, injury permitting.
Where Safuwan sits in terms of back-up for his more favoured role remains to be seen, but he would most likely come in to replace Chapman as a more like-for-like swap. The speed and mobility of the Singaporean would complement Kisnorbo’s hard as nails approach. If the captain does fall to injury, expect Wielaert to take his spot as the more senior figure in defence.
The final senior defender is fellow January signing Jack Clisby who has made the move from A-League leaders Perth Glory. The youngster looks set to fill a similar void to Safuwan at left-back, so expect him to be used purely as cover in a central role.
With the Singaporean international a big chance to make his debut, plenty of fans from across the ocean will be focused on their star defender as he gets the chance to become the first Singaporean to represent an Australian A-League club. How he’ll fare with the spotlight on him remains to be seen, but the man that has suddenly found himself as Singaporean football’s biggest ambassador will be giving his all to vindicate the tag.
Catch Melbourne City vs Western Sydney Wanderers live on SuperSports 2 (StarHub TV Channel 202) at 2pm, 1 February 2015.