SINGAPORE - Since his S-League debut with Tampines Rovers in 2006, Shahdan Sulaiman has been tipped to become Singapore's top playmaker with his vision, passing and creative abilities.
Now 29, he has not always lived up to that expectation as he struggled with a spate of leg fractures.
This past season is his first injury-free one since he broke his right leg and dislocated his right ankle at the 2014 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup. He recovered in 2015, only to fracture the same fibula last year and was out for five months.
Shahdan told The Straits Times on Wednesday (Dec 27): "It wasn't easy.
"But I still have great passion to play football, and I have great support from my family. Otherwise, I would have given up."
Following a steady campaign with Tampines - he scored six goals in 27 appearances this year - as well as re-establishing himself as a first-team regular with the national team, notching one assist in the last four international games, Shahdan appears to have finally caught a positive break.
He signed a one-year loan move to Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Melaka United on Tuesday.
"I'm happy to secure an overseas move and challenge myself in the MSL," said Shahdan, who recently agreed a three-year extension with the Stags but will now take his wife and two sons with him to Melaka.
"I'm thankful to Tampines chairman Desmond Ong and coach Jurgen Raab for allowing me to go on loan for a year.
"Playing for a foreign team for the first time is a big opportunity for me. I know I haven't been consistent enough so far in my career, but I am still hungry for success and I will work hard to re-establish myself at both club and international levels."
Raab agreed to release Shahdan as he felt the talented player can learn from the experience.
The 59-year-old German said: "It was a big request from him and we decided to give him the chance because we felt the MSL is of good quality with better imports, and we hope Shahdan can go and show that there are good Singaporean players.
"He is a good strategist who is able to see many situations and immediately play the right ball. We wish him the best in Melaka next year."
Melaka, who were eighth in the 12-team MSL this year, are coached by Portuguese Eduardo Almeida.
He has strengthened the midfield further with former Portugal Under-21 international Tiago Gomes, who has featured in Spain's LaLiga with Hercules, and Malaysian international wingers Chanturu Suppiah and R. Gopinathan from Johor Darul Takzim (JDT).
Shahdan's compatriots Faris Ramli and Hafiz Sujad were also on trial at Melaka for the sole Asean slot before the club opted for Shahdan.
Melaka manager Yusoff Mahadi told The New Straits Times: "What we needed was someone to play in the middle of the park."
Shahdan, who has 52 international caps, is the fourth Lion set to feature in the MSL in 2018. Hariss Harun (JDT), Safuwan Baharudin (Pahang) and Madhu Mohana (Negeri Sembilan) are the others.
He said: "It will be weird to play against them in a foreign league, but I'm looking forward to it.
"It's a different challenge as we move out of our comfort zone and now have the responsibility to justify our positions as imports."
Another three Lions - Zulfahmi Arifin (Chonburi), Hassan Sunny (Army United) and Izwan Mahbud (Nongbua Pitchaya) - will be plying their trade in Thailand.
Veteran defender Baihakki Khaizan could also join the exodus by becoming the first Singaporean to play in the Saudi Arabian league. The 33-year-old is on trial till Saturday with second-tier Jeddah Club, who are 14th in the 16-club competition that ends next May.