'A much higher level': What Hariss Harun can expect in Spain
Just when scribes both sides of the Causeway were sharpening pens and flexing fingers to ask what Hariss Harun was supposed to be doing in 2017, the Singapore star gave them an answer on Thursday.
The Johor Darul Ta’zim midfielder is moving to Spain’s third-tier to join Ce L’Hospitalet on a year-long loan.
Compared to the Malaysia Super League, Segunda B is better. Technically it is much better and tactically it is much better
Announcing the news on Facebook, JDT president Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim said the loan would help the midfielder gain experience and quality and would have a positive future impact on the Malaysian club.
It is an interesting move and one that left fans asking whether it is the right one or not for the Singapore captain.
The idea of seeing Hariss in Spain largely excited fans, but there isn't much glamour when he is playing for a little-known club in the nether-regions of the third tier.
So what can he and fans expect? Not many people have experience of both the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and Spain’s lower leagues.
One man that does have those experiences is Ramon Marcote, a Spaniard who has coached in his country's lower leagues and also spent the 2015 season as an assistant coach at Kedah.
When boss Tan Cheng Hoe was studying in China, Marcote stepped up to lead the Yellows to the Malaysia Cup final.
It was an experience he will never forget and one day he would love nothing more than to return to Malaysia when his children are a little older.
But for Marcote, there is no debate as to whether Hariss is making a step up, down or sideways.
“Compared to the Malaysia Super League, Segunda B is better,” Marcote told FourFourTwo. “Technically it is much better and tactically it is much better.
“There is no question he can improve and learn a lot playing at this level.”
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As many who took to Wikipedia for information quickly discovered, Hariss’ new club Hospitale is currently involved in a relegation fight.
But Marcote also quickly put into perspective the Spanish club's comparative talent level.
“Hospitalet are not the best team at this level, but if they were playing in Malaysia, they would be title challengers, no doubt,” he said.
There are certainly much better teams in the division, according to the league table at least.
The reserve teams of current leaders Barcelona, Valencia and Villarreal will provide quite a test for Hariss.
These squads are not only packed full of talent, they are filled with a mix of hardened pros and young prospects jostling to get, or return to, the next level.
“You have to remember that the players who are at this level are usually those who have played in La Liga or the Segunda in the past,” said Marcote.
“Or they are young players who belong to the big clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona who are trying to get there.
“There are also a lot of good players outside the top two teams and they are trying hard to get back there.”
Hospitalet are not the best team at this level, but if they were playing in Malaysia, they would be title challengers, no doubt
Thore Haugsted, a football writer and regular contributor to FourFourTwo based in Madrid, offered this assessement of Segunda B.
“I have watched quite a bit of it. It is generally quite a physical league in which small talented players come up against a few bruisers," he said.
“Even Lionel Messi was fairly unproductive in the brief spell he had with Barça B in Segunda B.
“Zinedine Zidane, who managed Castilla for 18 months between 2014 and 2016, is on record describing it as a level young players should move through quickly.”
Another man with experience of Spanish and Southeast Asian football is Ricardo Rodriguez, who faced Hariss and JDT as coach of Bangkok Glass in a 2015 Asian Champions League playoff.
The former Malaga assistant is also interested to see what happens.
“It is a higher level and much more competitive, with higher standards expected,” said Rodriguez.
“He can learn a lot, but he has to work hard.”
Marcote, who is now back working at Atletico Madrid, revealed that he turned down offers to return to Malaysia in 2016.
He believes it will be far from easy for Hariss, but stressed that if he works hard then the rewards could be considerable. Marcote added that when it comes to training sessions, the highest standards are demanded at all times.
“Some of the coaches will speak English, but it is not difficult to learn Spanish and he can do that quickly,” he said.
“He will also learn that in Spain, the tactical side of the game is very important. Coaches do not allow mistakes and are very strict in this side of things.
He must take this opportunity to show how good he is and maybe move to the next level
“He will have to concentrate all the time and this will help him become a better player.”
Marcote also felt it was important that Hariss be realistic about what lies in front of him.
“He will need time to adapt to the game. It is faster in Spain than in Malaysia and that is not easy,” said Marcote. “He also needs time to understand what the coach expects of him. And he will need time to reach the optimal fitness level.”
The message is clear: Hariss is going into a much more competitive and demanding environment, but that is exactly what he should embrace.
”He must take this opportunity to show how good he is and maybe move to the next level,” said Marcote.
“If he does that then he may get the chance to play in the second division. That would be a great opportunity, even if it will be very difficult.”