AffSuzukiCup2020 ● Dec 14, 2021
Safuwan Baharudin reaches century mark for Singapore
Safuwan Baharudin receives a special jersey from Head Coach Tatsuma Yoshida, 14 December 2021
SINGAPORE, 14 DECEMBER 2021 – Calm. Unflappable. Composed. Confident. Those are just some of the words to describe Safuwan Baharudin, who has become an integral part of the Singapore Men’s National Team defence since making his debut.
On Tuesday night, “centurion” was added to that list.
Just under 12 years on from his international bow for the Lions on 17 January, 2010 at the age of 18 years and 117 days against Thailand in the King’s Cup in Nakhon Ratchasima, Safuwan collected his 100th cap in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2020 2-0 victory against Timor-Leste in the National Stadium, Singapore Sports Hub. Remarkably, it was the number 21’s 21st consecutive international start and 21st consecutive start in Suzuki Cup history.
The centre-back became the 14th player to have reached a century of appearances for Singapore, joining Daniel Bennett (142 caps), Baihakki Khaizan (140), Shahril Ishak (138), Khairul Amri (132), Malek Awab (121), Aide Iskandar (120), S. Subramani (115), Indra Sahdan (113), David Lee (105), Samad Allapitchay (105), Nazri Nasir (104), Hariss Harun (103) and Fandi Ahmad (100).
It has been a long journey for someone who picked up football at the age of four and chose to focus on it, having also been an accomplished baseball and softball player who represented Singapore at Under-12 level.
Safuwan Baharudin, 8 December 2021
Safuwan was part of the Singapore Sports School’s pioneer batch of footballers and swiftly rose through the ranks, during which the then-striker was converted to a centre-back by the late Salim Moin. He then made his professional debut with the Young Lions in 2009 before earning his maiden cap a year later under Radjoko Avramovic.
“Back in my Sports School days, you needed to jot down a realistic age to be in the National Team as part of a goal-setting exercise, and it was quite difficult because we were watching the 2004 and 2007 (Suzuki Cup-winning teams),” Safuwan told FAS.org.sg, adding that he wrote down “18 or 19”.
“As the years went by, it was all about consistency. You need to be injury-free for the next 10 years or so to achieve this landmark and I feel that for the 13 people who have achieved this, it is probably the hardest one that any one of them had to go through and it will be remembered for years to come. To get to 100 at the age of 30, I am satisfied and this is something that I will remember for a long time.”
Head Coach Tatsuma Yoshida knows exactly what Safuwan brings to the Lions, having seen him complete all 12 matches (where he has been available) since taking charge.
Safuwan Baharudin, 21 November 2018
“He has played all these games under me because of his leadership and his ability to bring calm to the team on the pitch through his actions and quality, which is something not everybody has,” the Japanese told FAS.org.sg. “He brings us a core stability… he can control the tempo of the match, which is one of his biggest strengths. Of course, his threat at set-pieces means that opponents are always scared.
“Players like him and Hariss, they deserve to become legends. I just want to say congratulations to Safuwan, getting to 100 caps is a result of all his effort.”
From behind, goalkeeper Hassan Sunny has the best view in the house of the kind of assurance that Safuwan brings. Close friends with Safuwan, the 37-year-old noted that while his-team mate is “laid-back, relaxed and sometimes a joker” off the pitch, he is a different beast on it.
“He does not fool around and even in training, he is always focused. He is someone youngsters should look up to,” Hassan told FAS.org.sg. “I feel calm and confident because of his quality but not only is he calm, he makes everyone around him feel the same way. He brings that extra confidence to the team, especially when we are under pressure. I have seen him grow day by day and he has built up so much confidence. I am happy to have played so much with him and we have a good relationship and understanding. I feel safe when he is in front of him. Getting to 100 caps is a big achievement and he is one of the best I have played with.”
Safuwan Baharudin, 19 December 2012
While Safuwan’s versatility – he can play in defensive midfield, at full-back and also upfront – has been utilised by coaches throughout his career, it has also proved to be a challenge. Since moving across the Causeway in 2016 to join PDRM and subsequently transferring to Pahang and now at Selangor, Safuwan has mostly been used in midfield. When he returns for international duty, he plays in the heart of defence and Safuwan admitted that the transition takes some getting used to.
“I have been playing more or less as a number six at club level and the transition from that to a centre-back, not many players can do it,” he explained. “It is hard to come back and switch to that because the whole set-up is different and I do not train with the National Team every day. Consistency is hard to achieve but it is what it is; I just have to go there and deliver (for the country).”
As someone who has also been deployed in both positions, Lions captain Hariss Harun can appreciate the importance of Safuwan to the Lions, who he believes has developed in “leaps and bounds” over the years.
“From the technical aspects to his temperament, how he carries himself, Safuwan has been an unbelievable asset for the team,” he told FAS.org.sg. “He scores a lot of goals as a central defender… he gives us that threat and he dominates almost every ball in the air defensively and offensively. It is a huge advantage for the team and over the years he has become more commanding as well; when you see that you have him behind you, you have that little bit more assurance. He deserves every bit of this achievement and I hope that he can stay injury-free and play for many years to come.”
Safuwan Baharudin against Hong Kong, 10 October 2014
Had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic as well as an injury that ruled him out of the World Cup qualifiers earlier this June, Safuwan would have reached this landmark sooner. But the father of two kids, aged two and five, believes everything happens for a reason.
“If it was not for COVID, I would probably have achieved my 100th cap away from home and this is an achievement where I would love to have my family to witness,” he said. “It is a little bit different now because they were not be able to walk out with me but at least they were present and it was also shared among the crowd at the stadium.”
Safuwan Baharudin, 5 December 2021
Safuwan paid tribute to all the coaches – “especially Coach Raddy, who trusted me at a very young age” – and players he has been with, citing their belief and camaraderie as vital to lifting him during his lows. Above all, he is immensely grateful to his family.
“To my family, I have always been away from them,” he said. “It is always hard when I am away for my club and they are back in Singapore and when I am back with the National Team, I only see them for two to three days. These are the sacrifices that not many will commit to. I am always grateful and thankful to my wife for being so supportive during these last eight to 10 years, along with my parents and in-laws; these are the people who have made it happen. I would not have been able to do this alone.
“This is something I have been waiting for a while. Previously, I have been looking at Baihakki, Shahril and Hariss, wanting to achieve the same while applauding them. I hope to see more players coming through the ranks to not only achieve 100 caps but to do something more for Singapore football.”
Safuwan is not resting on his laurels either and is open to venturing to new pastures.
“For me, I am feeling good right now,” he said. “For European-based players, this is their so-called prime age. Hopefully, I can still go abroad to further my career, not just in Malaysia. If there are opportunities, I will definitely try. I can still go on for a good five to six years, if I stay injury-free and work doubly hard. Getting to this stage, you feel that your hard work and sacrifices have paid off but I still have a long way to go and I am a player who will always love to achieve more.”