SINGAPORE - After seven trophy-laden seasons with Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Takzim, Lions skipper Hariss Harun is returning home to sign for Singapore Premier League (SPL) club Lion City Sailors.
On its Facebook page on Monday (May 10), the Malaysian club revealed that the contract was "mutually terminated... in respect of Hariss' decision to return to Singapore due to family matters". It acknowledged that "the Covid-19 pandemic has made it impossible (for him) to travel back home on a more regular basis".
He had half a year remaining on his contract with the Malaysians. The Sailors subsequently announced that the 30-year-old would join them on a 3½-year deal.
After being unveiled online, Hariss thanked his former employers and said: "I'm thrilled to return home. The SPL is where I started to build my career, and it's exciting to now be a part of the Lion City Sailors' vision of building up a club that can act as a catalyst for the SPL and Singapore football.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with JDT, and it was an honour to have worn the armband for a team that enjoyed tremendous success on the pitch while also making amazing improvements off the field too.
"I can't wait to get started on my next chapter with the Sailors, and I look forward to years of Sailors' on-field success and off-the-pitch progress."
Hariss' arrival comes at a time when the Sailors - formerly known as Home United who became Singapore's first privatised club in 2020 - are building their squad in a bid to win the SPL title and qualify for the AFC Champions League.
In addition to amassing some of the top local talents, they made waves this pre-season by spending $2.9 million to sign Brazilian playmaker Diego Lopes from Portuguese top-tier side Rio Ave, making him the Singapore league's first million-dollar player. Incidentally, Rio Ave was the club Hariss turned down in 2013 due to uncertainty over his National Service commitments.
The Sailors are currently second in the SPL, one point behind defending champions Albirex Niigata. However, they are also in search of a new head coach after Aurelio Vidmar jumped ship to join Thai champions BG Pathum on April 28.
Sailors chief executive Chew Chun-Liang said: "Hariss is a model professional who has shown that he is a leader in the dressing room as well as on the pitch, and we're looking forward to him contributing to all the various facets of the Lion City Sailors project.
"Hariss has all the qualities that will not only strengthen the Sailors, but make our fans proud of what we're aiming to build at the club. We're delighted to welcome Hariss back to Singapore."
Hariss' professional career began when he joined the Young Lions as a 16-year-old in 2007. After winning the MSL with LionsXII in 2013, he joined JDT in 2014, when the Malaysian club began their domestic dominance.
The Malaysians made him the highest-earning Singaporean footballer in 2015, when he signed a two-year deal for US$30,000 (S$40,000) a month. His salary with the Sailors has not been disclosed.
In 2017, Hariss joined the Sailors' predecessors Home United on a one-year loan from JDT, after a botched loan stint with then third-tier Spanish outfit CE L'Hospitalet.
With Hariss playing a key defensive role with 197 appearances, which also included 12 goals and five assists, JDT won seven consecutive league titles, the 2015 AFC Cup, two Malaysia Cups and one Malaysia FA Cup.
Johor Crown Prince and JDT owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim paid tribute to his former skipper and hailed Hariss as a JDT legend.
He wrote on Facebook: "When I started this project in 2013, I didn't know much about the local football scene. I started to understand more in 2014 and realised that this club was missing a defensive midfielder - a backbone of the team - and this was my first signing for 2014.
"I met this young guy and told him about my project, intention, what was missing at the club and asked if he could help. He was about to go to Portugal and I convinced him to come here to win titles.
"He decided to be with us when this team were nothing. We didn't have a training ground, no transportation, no office and such. Today, JDT have become very successful and Hariss Harun has been an integral part of this club.
"You will always have my support, our support and you will always be part of the JDT family."