Greater future for Safawi

Johor Darul Ta'zim Safawi Rasid react during training session before the Malaysia Cup final match at Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. FAIHAN GHANI/The Star.

PETALING JAYA: Safawi Rasid’s impending move to the Portuguese Primeira Liga club Portimonense is seen as a feather in the cap for Malaysian football.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian football fraternity were abuzz when the news broke of Safawi being offered an opportunity to play in Portugal, the land that had produced players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo.

All were singing praises of Safawi’s big leap to further his career in Europe, including Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) founder Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, national coaches Tan Cheng Hoe and Datuk Ong Kim Swee.

Tunku Ismail has consented the move saying that the 23-year-old winger, the top scorer for his club en route to winning the Charity Shield, Super League and Malaysia Cup last year, would be released after the Malaysian league season ends.

Cheng Hoe said once Safawi’s move is confirmed, it would be a shot in the arm for the national team.

“It shows that Malaysia can produce top quality players for overseas leagues. It is good that he would be playing in a country that has produced stars like Cristiano,” said Cheng Hoe.

“Portugal is one of the best countries to play football, and it will be a different environment for Safawi because the intensity and tempo will be higher there.”

Cheng Hoe has coached Safawi since 2017 and the latter has scored six goals in 10 matches for Malaysia.

“His progress has been meteoric. He has proven that he can play in the top-level by scoring fantastic goals in the AFC Champions League for JDT,” said Cheng Hoe.

“My advice to him, when an opportunity comes, grab it. One day when you retire, you do not want to regret missing a chance of playing in the big stage.

“I hope he copes with the culture and environment well. I just want him to have a great future.”

The news first broke when Portuguese daily sports newspaper O Jogo revealed that Portimonense could sign Safawi on loan, with an option to sign him permanently later. The final negotiations are still ongoing.

FAM youth development unit head Kim Swee said Safawi should strive to be the first Malaysian to play in the UEFA Champions League or even the Europa Cup.

“It’s a good move for Safawi and it’s good that he has the blessing from the Crown Prince and JDT. Previously, he had offers to play overseas but he decided to join JDT in 2017, and it was the right decision then,” said Kim Swee.

“When Safawi was with the national youth teams, he would motivate himself by doing extra work on his own before and after training.

“When he wants something, he is the kind of person who is determined to get it at all cost. It shows his character as a player, he has a bright future,” added Kim Swee.

Safawi had been one of the most highly-rated young footballers in the South East Asia region, thanks to his thunderous left-footed shots, and dribbling abilities.

His stock rose in 2018 when he won the Malaysia Football League (MFL) most promising player, best midfielder and MVP awards after scoring 16 goals in 34 matches. He swept the awards again in 2019 with 20 goals in 34 matches.

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