In his nine years here, Song Ui-young has carved a reputation for being a tenacious midfielder in the Singapore Premier League.
This determination extends off the pitch as the 26-year-old South Korean finally became a Singapore permanent resident in May on his third attempt, with the support of Sport Singapore and the Football Association of Singapore.
When he first applied in 2017, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority told him it did not receive his documents, while his 2018 application was rejected.
Thrilled at the news, Song noted it also means he is one step closer to fulfilling his dream of obtaining Singapore citizenship and playing for the Lions – he has satisfied Fifa’s five-year residency rule to play for an adopted country at senior level.
He said: “I have grown to become a better footballer and a better person, and Singapore has played a big part in that.
“Whenever I go to South Korea for a break, I would feel like coming back to Singapore.
“It is a strange feeling but this means Singapore really feels like home.
“It would be an honour to contribute by playing for Singapore. I know it may take another two years before I can apply for citizenship, I am willing to wait but of course I’m hoping everything can be processed as soon as possible.”
Some of Singapore’s naturalised players’ citizenship applications were expedited in the past, but these were before Fifa increased the residency requirement from two to five years in 2008. Since then, the Lions have not added to the nine foreign-born footballers they have had under the Foreign Sports Talent (FST) scheme.
The programme has been dormant in local football for the past decade, with China-born forward Qiu Li the last to be naturalised and eligible to play in 2010.
However, at the 2018 FAS congress, the association indicated it was open to reviving the FST scheme, and it is understood that Song has been on its radar as a prospective naturalised player.
Then 18, he was plucked from the Seoul Yeouido Academy and brought here in 2011 to play for Home United (now known as Lion City Sailors) in the Prime League by former coach Lee Lim-saeng.
I know it may take another two years before I can apply for citizenship, I am willing to wait but of course I’m hoping everything can be processed as soon as possible.
Song’s early years were tough as he had to adapt to a new country and language but he persevered.
Former Home coach Aidil Sharin switched Song, initially a defensive midfielder, to a more advanced role and he flourished.
He scored 20 goals in 27 games in 2018, and followed that with 11 in 25 games last year.
This season, he has scored twice in four matches.
Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar felt Song would be a good fit for the Lions with his ability and personality.
The former Australia captain and caretaker coach said: “A midfielder who scores regularly is hard to come by at international level.
“Song also happens to be a great guy and a respectful guy who gets along well with everyone.
“He has shown his desire and commitment by staying here for nine years.
“He is still relatively young, but if you are serious about improving the national team with him, things got to move quicker because otherwise you would be missing out on his best years.”