SINGAPORE - If all goes well, Anders Aplin could soon become the first Singaporean footballer to sign for a J-League team.
The 27-year-old Geylang International and national team defender will fly to Japan on Monday for a medical check-up with a view to signing for J2 League side Matsumoto Yamaga on loan until the end of the season in November.
Aplin spent a week training with second-tier side Yamaga in January, and it is understood he made enough of an impression for the club to decide they want the player before Japan's mid-season transfer window closes on Aug 15.
Geylang general manager Andrew Ang said: "While a deal has not been finalised at this point, we hope everything will work out for Anders and he can get the chance to further his football education in Japan and make a mark for Singapore football and himself."
Yamaga and Geylang have had a working relationship since 2016, and both clubs share the same main sponsor, Epson.
Two other national footballers, Shawal Anuar and Gabriel Quak, also had training attachments with Yamaga last year while they were Geylang players, but a move did not materialise.
Former national player Noor Ali, Geylang's head coach last season, is currently on a year-long attachment with the club and is head of their Under-18 squad.
It has been a remarkable rise for Aplin, who was playing in the amateur National Football League as recently as 2015, and made his senior national team debut only in March.
When The Straits Times caught up with him before a Geylang training session and asked if his impending move had sunk in yet, he simply chuckled and shook his head.
"No, it hasn't," he said with a grin, as joggers ambled past on the Bedok Stadium running track.
"But I've spent some time there, and I know what it's like - how the club is set up and the intensity of football there. I'm excited."
With the season just past the halfway mark, Yamaga are leading J2 and hope to earn promotion back to the top flight, where they last played in 2015.
Aplin has similarly worked hard for his big break.
"I started my preparation for the (January) trip very early, one week after the (last S-League) season ended," he said.
"I had double, sometimes triple sessions daily. Everything was planned and structured, based on what head coach (Hirotaka) Usui and coach Noor Ali felt I needed to work on and improve before the trip.
"I also sat down with our trainer and planned what I had to do each day, what to eat, when to sleep... It was hell for about eight weeks."
Aplin even went on a week-long acclimatisation trip to England, where he has relatives, so he would get used to the cold weather in Japan, which can dip below 0 deg C in January.
Geylang head coach Usui, who was Yamaga's U-18 coach before arriving in Singapore to serve his current attachment with the Eagles, praised Aplin's fitness standards.
"If you look at his yo-yo (fitness) test results, Anders has higher scores than players in the Yamaga first team," Usui told ST.
"But there is a big difference in the standard of football here and in J2, and it will not be easy for him to break into the first team.
"Whatever happens, it will be good exposure for him and for Singapore football. Japan already has five Thai players playing in the J-League. It will be good if we can have a Singaporean too."
Interim national coach Fandi Ahmad said he was pleased for Aplin, and noted: "It's encouraging clubs in Japan are now looking at our players. The opportunity is there, so our players should take it if it comes.
"Most importantly, they must try to get into the starting 11 of the teams they join, and I know Anders will give his all to do just that.
"He's got determination and is physically very strong, but he needs to improve on his technical ability and learn how to be more disciplined tactically."
J-League international relations official Kei Koyama said: "We are trying to bring more and more Asean players to the J.League. There will be more exposure and attention in this region if we have top stars from each country.
"That would also be beneficial for South-east Asia as these footballers would be playing in Japan, which is the highest level of club football in Asia. They can then grow and take back their experience to their respective national teams."
Aplin acknowledged the challenge ahead of him as a "tough" one, but added: "The main difference is that the players there think a lot faster. Tactically, they are very sound.
"Obviously I'd like to play, but just being there will allow me to learn a lot."
Additional reporting by David Lee