Hariss transfer fiasco a sad event for Singapore football

Apart from the unanswered questions that arose when the Lions midfielder’s move to Spain collapsed, the bureaucratic cock-up will again make local prospects wary of taking the overseas route, argues Neil Humphreys 

The only aspect of the Hariss Harun transfer fallout that proved to be surprising was anyone pretending to be surprised.

This is what we do in Singapore football. Like a straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler comedy, the sunny island is the place to go for daft plots, surreal cock-ups and that overriding sense of laughable incompetence.

One of Singapore’s best and brightest headed to Spain to make history only to return to the dimmer lights of Bishan Stadium within a fortnight.

That underwhelming anti-climax is hard to shake off, evoking fuzzy memories of Fann Wong promising to conquer Hollywood with an appearance in Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Knights only to return to the homely comforts of MediaCorp.

But the Singaporean actress did at least share screen time with Chan and Owen Wilson. Hariss never kicked a ball at CE L’Hospitalet.

After spending two weeks or so with the Spanish third-tier club, his stay came to an abrupt halt when CE L’Hospitalet could not register him due to an undisclosed taxation issue.

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Instead of flying high in Spain, Hariss will have to contend with the S.League

It cannot be stressed enough that there is no evidence to suggest any wrongdoing on the part of CE L’Hospitalet, Johor Darul Ta’zim FC, Hariss himself or Home United, who only got involved once the Spanish move collapsed.

But that’s neither here nor there. The more troubling issue is the failed transfer strengthens the belief that Southeast Asian football remains a bureaucratic basket case, a place dominated by chancers and fakers and hard to take seriously as a place of football business.

Dodgy agents, scouts and ‘representatives’ have wandered around the regional game’s periphery for decades now and can still be found at S.League stadiums or neighbouring coffee shops promising to bring in the next Jermaine Pennant or guaranteeing the next Hariss Harun a move to Europe.

Even though Hariss’ proposed deal was conducted in good faith, it did raise questions on the football front that were never satisfactorily answered, such as, if JDT continue to claim that his loan move to Spain will eventually materialise, why keep him at all? Why not get his sizeable wages off the books?

JDT and Home United have both operated in an honest and transparent fashion, but the Malaysian club’s insistence that his loan deals will make him a better JDT player confuses more than it convinces.

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If Hariss wasn't good enough for JDT now, when will he be?

Hariss isn’t a wet-behind-the-ears wunderkind seeking first-team experience. This isn’t David Beckham being sent to Preston North End to do a term at the school of hard knocks before graduating with the Class of 92.

Hariss is an established, experienced 26-year-old title winner for both club and country, having picked up the Malaysia Super League titles with the Lions XII and JDT. Comfortable at either centre-back or in central midfield, he’s a metronome of no-frills dependability.

He’s no trainee. So he’s either good enough for JDT now or he isn’t

He’s no trainee. So he’s either good enough for JDT now or he isn’t.

But the Malaysian club maximised their import quota before the transfer window closed, leaving him with no choice but to seek pastures new.

So Hariss finds himself back in a struggling S.League, obviously lacking match fitness and ineligible for Home United’s first AFC Cup group-stage match.

Ironically, the industrious Singaporean who went to Spain to improve as a footballer may not play a competitive club game for Home until April 1.

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Hariss will most likely have gone four months without any competitive games

He must pay the price for the administrative shortcomings of others, the knock-on effects of which should not be underestimated.

If Hariss, a committed Lions regular with solid credentials, cannot forge a foreign path, what chance has an unheralded young prospect got? That’s the kiasu question that will be asked repeatedly within a sport struggling for credibility.

JDT promised him a loan deal in various European countries and secured a last-minute move in Spain, but the dream was over before Hariss had a chance to order paella in Spanish.

JDT promised him a loan deal in various European countries and secured a last-minute move in Spain, but the dream was over before Hariss had a chance to order paella in Spanish

A cock-up brought him back to the S.League, where he must pass the mandatory 2.4km test run before he can make his Home debut.

Of all the possible scenarios Hariss conjured when his plane left Changi Airport a few weeks ago, this wasn’t one of them.

And those suggesting that his return to domestic competition boosts local football really should address that parochial myopia.

Joseph Schooling inspires the next generation of potential Olympians because he’s currently breaking records in swimming pools in Texas, not Toa Payoh.

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Hariss' return should not be cheered as much

Harris could’ve done the same in Spain.

That said, his temporary stay at Home United deserves to be a success. Despite being penalised for the mistakes of others, he has retained a dignified, pragmatic stance throughout. But that same pragmatism will eat away at him, encouraging him to get away from the S.League at the earliest opportunity.

Hopefully, he can still complete his move to CE L’Hospitalet in June.

If Harris really wants to improve the health of Singapore football, then he’s got to leave Singapore.

Photos: FAS