SINGAPORE - Despite a troubling few years for the Singapore national football team and the S-League, there is still a healthy demand for individual Lions from regional leagues.
Tampines Rovers defender Madhu Mohana, 26, inked a one-year deal with Malaysia Super League (MSL) side Negeri Sembilan on Friday (Dec 8).
He is the fourth national player to head overseas following midfielder Hariss Harun's return to Malaysian kingpins Johor Darul Ta'zim after his loan spell at S-League club Home United, utility player Safuwan Baharudin's move to their top-tier rivals Pahang, and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny's re-signing for Thai League 2 side Army United.
The Stags finished second behind all-conquering Albirex Niigata in the S-League this season and the shaggy-haired Madhu played 17 out of 24 league games, posting some solid performances as Tampines conceded just 20 league goals, four more than the Japanese outfit, who led all statistics.
But this will be the first time he will be playing for a non-Singaporean club, although he was a key member of the LionsXII team that played in Malaysian competitions from 2012 to 2015 and won the MSL in 2013 and the FA Cup in 2015.
Comfortable playing anywhere across defence, and armed with a booming long throw, the 1.83-metre Madhu has 29 international caps and been a starter in the last six games for the national team as a centre-back or a right wing-back.
He told The Straits Times yesterday: "I'm happy to agree terms with Negeri, a team with a history of creating surprises, and one that won the Malaysia Cup in 2009 and 2011.
"Even though Negeri just got promoted back to the MSL, we will do all we can to go as far as possible in every competition we play.
"I remember the fierce rivalry between Malaysian teams and I'm excited to start this new journey and prove myself in a foreign league."
At Negeri, he will draw a higher salary then he did at Tampines and will also be provided with a car and accommodation.
He can also expect to play in front of big crowds at the 45,000-capacity Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi, where Negeri players have been known to celebrate with the home support in front of the Ultras N9 with the Viking Clap.
Negeri finished fifth in the second-tier Malaysia Premier League (MPL) last season. But the club were promoted along with third-placed PKNP after Felda United failed to obtain a club licence from the Football Association of Malaysia in time.
T-Team have applied to become an official feeder club for Terengganu and are therefore not allowed to compete in the same division.
Fourth-placed JDT II were also ineligible for promotion as they are Johor's official feeder team. MPL champions Kuala Lumpur and runners-up Terengganu were the other two promoted teams, replacing the relegated ATM and Perlis.
ST also understands that 28-year-old Home United defender Abdil Qaiyyim, capped once by Singapore, will go on trial at Thai League 2 side Khonkaen FC next week.
The north-eastern team were promoted to the second division after winning the Thai League 3 Upper Region last season.