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 By Kenneth Tan

Anumanthan ready for Home United in AFC Cup ASEAN final vs. Ceres

Hougang United midfielder M. Anumanthan
M. Anumanthan had a breakthrough year with Hougang United in 2016 before his move to Home United.

Singapore international midfielder M. Anumanthan could finally make his first appearance for Home United in this week's AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final against Ceres-Negros.

The first leg will be held at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday, with the second leg in the Philippines on Aug. 9.

Anumanthan has had to bide his time since transferring from Hougang United in the mid-season transfer window, but is likely to be rewarded for his patience.

Serving National Service (NS) with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the 23-year-old has received clearance from his unit to be registered for the Protectors' AFC Cup campaign.

He cited the opportunity to play at a higher level as the biggest factor in trading the orange of Hougang United for the red of Home United.

"It's exciting to be moving to a new environment with different expectations and visions," Anumanthan told ESPN FC. "I've always liked to embrace challenges.

"Playing in a competition like the AFC Cup is a great platform for players to prove their worth and gain valuable experience. It's a huge motivation to be able to compete and test myself against players of higher quality in this region."

Anumanthan admits it was not an easy decision to leave Hougang, where he has come on leaps and bounds for the last one-and-a-half years.

"Hougang and the HOOLS [the club's unofficial supporters' club] have given me everything I needed from day one since I joined the club from Young Lions," he explained.

"I'll forever be grateful to this club for the fantastic experience and hold them in a special place in my heart. I'm thankful that they have given me the blessings to make this next step in my career."

Anumanthan had enjoyed a standout 2016 season with his all-action displays in the middle of the park for the Cheetahs. He became the first Singaporean since Hariss Harun in 2010 to win the S.League Young Player of the Year award.

After starting all three games of Singapore's ill-fated Suzuki Cup campaign last November, he then featured in Hougang's opening five matches of the 2017 season. He also came on as a substitute in Singapore's 0-0 away draw against Bahrain in the Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers in March.

His last game for the Cheetahs was, ironically, a 2-0 loss to Home. Since his NS enlistment in mid-April, he hasn't kicked a ball in a competitive match.

"I'm really itching to get back to competitive football now," he said. "It's lucky for me that the transition period wasn't that long, and now I just have to get my match fitness back up again."

With the likes of Hariss, Izzdin Shafiq, Song Uiyoung and Adam Swandi all jostling for positions in the middle, Anumanthan is not expecting to walk into the Protectors' first team under Aidil Sharin.

"Competition is important in any team; I had that in the national team and at Hougang, so it does not faze me that much," he said. "It's interesting to be able to train with these guys. All I need to do is to give my best and learn as much I can over here."

Besides doing well at club level, Anumanthan is also hoping for a swift return to the Singapore national squad to add to his 13 international caps.

"Representing Singapore has always been my goal and dream," he added. "Everything I do will centralise for and towards playing and fighting for my country."

Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT

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