Football: Izwan inks deal with Nongbua, Singapore's leading goalies will feature in Thailand next year

Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud is all smiles after penning his contract with Thai League 2 side Nongbua Pitchaya.
Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud is all smiles after penning his contract with Thai League 2 side Nongbua Pitchaya.PHOTO: EQUATRE ASIA

SINGAPORE - The nation's top two goalkeepers will ply their trade in Thailand next year after Izwan Mahbud inked a one-season deal with Thai League 2 (T2) side Nongbua Pitchaya on Thursday (Dec 14).

The 27-year-old, who has 42 caps, moves from Tampines Rovers.

Singapore No. 1 Hassan Sunny had re-signed for Army United recently, while Abdil Qaiyyim is also undergoing a trial with T2's Khonkaen.

The other national players outside the S-League are Johor Darul Takzim's Hariss Harun, Pahang's Safuwan Baharudin and Negeri Sembilan's Madhu Mohana.

Izwan told The Straits Times: "I have always wanted to play overseas and I am thankful for this opportunity to play for Nongbua next year.

"Nongbua have been competitive in the last couple of years and I hope I will be able to make a big difference to the club. I want to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.

"Hopefully this will be a good test for me and help in my development as a goalkeeper. Of course, I would still like to play for bigger clubs in bigger leagues in the future but my priority now is to do well with Nongbua next season."

After bursting into prominence in 2011 when then-national coach Raddy Avramovic threw him into World Cup qualifiers against Malaysia for just his second and third caps, Izwan's career went on an upward trajectory.

Following the 2013 Malaysian Super League and 2015 Malaysian FA Cup triumphs with the LionsXII, he then gained global fame when he made 18 saves to help Singapore to a 0-0 World Cup qualifying draw against Asian kingpins Japan in June 2015.

However, after moves to J2 League side Matsumoto Yamaga and Thai League 1's Chonburi failed to materialise, Izwan's form declined when he returned to the S-League for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

With a fierce desire to play abroad and get back to his peak, it is understood that Izwan has agreed to take a pay cut, although he did receive an undisclosed sign-on fee for the move. Nongbua are also willing to take on the player despite his recent hand surgery.

Izwan said: "My move to Thailand is not motivated by money. I am determined to push myself and this is a great opportunity. I know I have to make some sacrifices but I hope this new challenge will reap benefits in the future.

"There will be some adjustments but I don't think they are major. Nongbua coach (Theerawekin Seehawong) used to play in the S-League (with Gombak United and Woodlands Wellington), and I have been in touch with him so I believe he can help me adapt and I am confident I can fit nicely into the team."

Founded in 2010, Nongbua may not a be a glamour team, but they won promotion from the third tier in 2016 and finished eighth out of 18 teams in their debut T2 season this year, one spot ahead of Hassan's more-established Army United.

While Izwan is looking forward to facing his compatriot on the pitch, he acknowledged Hassan's role as a trailblazer as the 33-year-old had two successful seasons with Army in 2015 and 2016.

"Hassan's successful stint proves that Singaporean goalkeepers have the ability to match the best in South-east Asia and I am confident I can do just as well in an overseas league," he said.