Singapore assistant coach Aide Iskandar tells FourFourTwo that Safuwan Baharudin can overtake him, and believes the LionsXII defender is well-poised for further success on the national stage.
Safuwan was one of the key factors behind the the Lions’ 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph as he forged an excellent defensive partnership with Baihakki Khaizan, prompting many to label them South East Asia’s best centre-back pairing.
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That was in stark contrast to the youngster’s Suzuki Cup debut in 2010, when he was blamed for the Lions’ premature exit in the group stages.
Surprisingly fielded as a midfielder in the Lions’ must-win game against Vietnam, the then-19-year-old lost the ball which led to the Viets scoring the decisive goal that eliminated Singapore that night.
Former national captain Aide believes that drawback was a valuable lesson for Safuwan, helping him become the colossal figure he is today.
“2010 was definitely not the best year for him,” the Courts Young Lions trainer told FourFourTwo.
“When he was first drafted by Raddy [Avramovic] into the national team, I thought he would be a key figure. However, a lot of people blamed him for our early exit in Vietnam.
“To be fair, that experience actually helped him to grow and become a much more matured player.”
Since making his international debut in a King’s Cup match against Thailand in 2010, Safuwan has made 40 appearances with the national team – almost a third of Aide’s record of 121.
And he latter believes the 23-year-old is well-poised to overtake that number.
“At the moment, the closest are Bai [Baihakki Khaizan] and Shahril [Ishak],” three-time ASEAN champion Aide continued. “But I think Safuwan will be able to surpass my [number of] caps. He is now at a good stage where the platform [to star] is getting bigger and bigger.
"Perhaps the exposure wasn’t there before that, but now he has the Malaysian [Super] League and the upcoming ASEAN Super League, thus he’ll definitely be even better in the future.
“He has all the potential to go far and play for Singapore for a very long time.”
Given his impressive rise, Aide believes Safuwan stands a good chance of inheriting the Singapore armband once incumbent Shahril Ishak retires.
“There’re a lot of candidates, but I think Safuwan and Hariss [Harun] will be the leaders to guide the future generation,” said the man who captained the Lions to successive ASEAN titles in 2004 and 2007.
“It’s between the two of them [for the armband] and this can only be good for Singapore football.”
Photo credit: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo