Deepanraj Ganesan talks to Safuwan Baharudin about maturing as a footballer, his stint with Melbourne City and what lies ahead for one of Singapore football's key men...
His train of thought suddenly seemed to be derailed. Safuwan Baharudin was detailing how his move to Melbourne City came about when something visibly distracted him. The lanky Singapore national team player reacted by shifting in his seat and rubbing his eyes before he continued.
For a man so often in the limelight and at the centre of attention everywhere he goes, Safuwan’s reaction to a couple of flashes emitting from the photographer’s camera comes as a surprise, and yet it serves as evidence of his personality.
The defender-turned-midfielder cherishes his private time, often shuns media interviews and is nowhere near as flamboyant and flashy as some of his teammates.“I don’t speak too much, or at least I try not to,” said Safuwan.
“I try to avoid people because that is the only way they can talk less about me.”
It has been six years since he made his professional debut as a 17-year-old for the Young Lions in the S-League and since then, Safuwan has gone from strength to strength. As much as he might detest it, he is the talk of the town.
But while he is out-jumping his marker and intercepting plays in the middle of the park now for the Lions, Safuwan’s athleticism was not always exclusive to the football pitch.
When he was a student at Woodlands Primary School, Safuwan was a pitcher for the school softball team. He wasn’t too shabby either, making it to the national under-12 team.
“My primary school didn’t offer football and I had an interest in softball so that was what I played when I was younger,” revealed Safuwan.
“Of course after I entered Singapore Sports School and started being serious about football, I totally put softball aside. But I am hoping to set aside some time soon to try and have a few throws and catches, if possible.”
Softball’s loss, fortunately, has been football’s gain.
This season Safuwan has been in imperious form, netting 13 goals in total – nine for LionsXII, two while on loan at City and a brace against Cambodia in Singapore’s opening World Cup qualifer – to become an indispensable figure for the LionsXII and the national team.
It has come despite being fielded in a variety of positions, be it at full-back, centre-back or at the heart of his side’s midfield.
Nevertheless, Safuwan has gone about his business without fuss. In a 3-2 win over Terengganu FA in a Malaysia Cup tie two weeks ago, Safuwan was at it again, netting another brace for the LionsXII.
It was a performance that left his coach Fandi Ahmad purring in delight.
“Number one,” said Fandi at the post-match conference. “He is the heart and soul of this team."
Yet it hasn’t always been such smooth sailing.