After three months of uncertainty, Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud finally has a reason to smile after signing a one-season deal to continue his career in Thai League 1 with Samut Prakan City last Saturday.
Nicknamed Sea Fang, the club were formerly known as Pattaya United before they moved to Samut Prakan, a province about 25km from Bangkok, last year when they finished sixth.
The 30-year-old told The Straits Times: “I’m excited, relieved, and grateful for this opportunity, because I thought this year was going to be a write-off for me.”
In May, when his family and friends were celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri, he was barely in the mood to join in the festivities.
At the back of his mind, he was worried about his future with Thai League 1 side Trat FC, who had terminated fellow Singaporean Afiq Yunos’ contract a month earlier.
Izwan’s fears were confirmed in June, when he was also released by the club as the season was suspended after just four games owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The league eventually decided to restart this Saturday, but that was of little comfort to the custodian, who was jobless.
It did not help that even here, there was little demand for his services with every Singapore Premier League club already having at least two goalkeepers on their books.
He said: “I was very down because I was looking forward to playing and performing in T1. I was also very worried because it is very difficult to find a job anywhere with the pandemic.”
Still, he stayed in condition after returning to Singapore, training with the Young Lions for a month after small-group sessions were allowed in phase two of the post-circuit breaker period.
His work ethic did not go unnoticed.
Samut Prakan City were on the lookout for a foreign goalkeeper to challenge Patiwat Khammai, and coach Masatada Ishii received positive feedback from Singapore national coach Tatsuma Yoshida.
Yoshida said: “Izwan was looking for a new club and was still keen on playing overseas. I know their coach and believe he can help further Izwan’s development as a player.
“It is important for him to keep playing football at a high level in order to maintain his position as a key player in the national team.”
After agreeing terms with the club last Saturday, Izwan is grateful he can resume his T1 journey.
He said: “I believe I can still achieve greater heights in my overseas career, and I’m thankful that Samut Prakan City have this trust in me, and also for coach Tatsuma’s role in this.
“The club are run professionally, and have ambition to play in the AFC Champions League, so I feel we are a good fit and I’m looking forward to helping the team reach our targets.”
However, with four goalkeepers in the squad, Izwan is under no illusion that he can just waltz into the first team, starting with their first game against Rayong at home on Sunday.
He said: “There is no such thing as a free pass in competitive football and I will work extremely hard to justify my place in the team.”