JDT II's Dominic Tan will become Malaysia star says Singapore's Bai
Singapore veteran Baihakki Khaizan predicts that his Johor Darul Ta'zim II centre-back partner Dominic Tan will be Malaysia's leading defender in years to come.
The duo's telepathic understanding has helped JDT II to third place in the Malaysian Premier League, with only 15 goals conceded in 12 matches.
The former Singapore Sports School graduate, who previously played for Harimau Muda C, has been called up by Malaysia U22 coach Frank Bernhardt for the inaugural Nations Cup. The tournament, starting on Friday in Malacca, also features Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Baihakki, 32, is pleased that his mentorship of Tan has shown results, and believes the youngster has all the qualities needed to succeed at the top level.
"When he [Dominic] first joined the team, he was shy and quiet like all new youngsters," Baihakki told ESPN FC.
"But we started bonding in preseason and you could see his qualities on the pitch. Even at this age, I would go as far as to say that he is one of the better ones at reading the game and his decision-making is good.
"I honestly think he will go on to become the next big product of the JDT football family, but it is now up to him just how much he wants it. The hunger and desire seem to be there, now he has to go out and get the job done."
Tan's first assignment at the Nations Cup will be against Richard Tardy's Singapore U22 side on Friday. With pride at stake in the mini-Causeway derby, Baihakki says his teammate could be the stumbling block for the young Lions at the Hang Jebat Stadium.
"Such competitions are key to giving youngsters the chance to taste international football and see where they stand among their peers," he said.
"It also gives players like Tan the stage to show that even at his age, he can play at the senior level if he keeps his head down. Playing for JDT II exposes him to big crowds in the Malaysian league and it won't faze him now.
"Against Singapore, his physique and reading of the game will come in handy, and he could stop the Singapore attackers in their tracks, and marshal the Malaysian defence the way he has done so with JDT II."
While Baihakki is full of praise for Tan, the Singapore centurion is disappointed that his club teammate will be playing against the young lions, when it could have been the opposite.
Tan, who was born in Singapore and is a Singapore permanent resident, was in the National Football Academy before making the decision to take his boots across the Causeway to Johor.
"I was in the NFA and did think of taking the easy way out by changing to play for Singapore as my coaches [at the NFA] had asked me to," Dominic told ESPN FC. "But since young, I've always wanted to play for Malaysia.
"I knew it would be hard [to get into the Malaysia national team], but I just had to give it a shot and now I am here with the U22s. My dream of playing for Malaysia will hopefully come true with hard work."
Even though Tan's decision to represent Malaysia instead of Singapore was a personal choice, Baihakki feels that Singapore football lacks an effective youth scouting channel, with many talented footballers dropping away.
"This is where proper scouting networks need to be in place," Baihakki said. "Imagine, there are so many upcoming youngsters in Singapore schools like him [Dominic], not just Sports School.
"If we had proper scouts, players like Dominic wouldn't slip through the gaps and that one player that we rope into the system could change the game for the senior team in future.
"It is disappointing to know that he could have represented Singapore, but now, as a senior club teammate, I want to see him do well and go on to become a full Malaysian international.
"He has all the attributes to make it and even go on to captain Malaysia, so don't be surprised the Malaysian coach even pick him for the Suzuki Cup."
Dominic and his Harimau Muda teammates will face off against Adam Swandi and the Singapore U22s on Friday. The winners will progress to the final on Sunday where they take on either Thailand or Vietnam for the chance to lift the Nations Cup trophy.