Singapore GK Izwan Mahbud follows Hassan Sunny to Thai second tier
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud is following in the footsteps of his international teammate Hassan Sunny by swapping the S.League for Thai League 2 (T2).
Hassan signed up for a second stint at T2 outfit Army United earlier this month. Now, his rival for the goalkeeper's gloves in the national team will become a rival in T2 after signing a deal with Nongbua Pitchaya FC.
"Hassan's successful stint proves that Singaporean goalkeepers have the ability to match the best in Southeast Asia and I am confident I can do just as well in an overseas league," Izwan told The Straits Times.
The two goalkeepers have had a healthy rivalry for the national side, and it was one of Izwan's performances for the Lions that brought him to the attention of the rest of Asia. In 2015, he was outstanding in Singapore's 0-0 draw in a FIFA World Cup qualifier away to 2011 Asian champions Japan.
Izwan also played a starring role for LionsXII as they upset the odds to win the 2015 Malaysia FA Cup by beating Kelantan 3-1 in the final at Kuala Lumpur's National Stadium at Bukit Jalil.
The 27-year-old leaves Tampines Rovers ahead of their AFC Champions League qualifier with Bali United in January, which also means missing out on their likely AFC Cup campaign, after finishing as runners-up in the S.League this year.
But the former Young Lions Star is delighted to have the opportunity to move to the country that currently hosts the top league in Southeast Asia.
Hassan was a big success in his first spell in Thailand, and Izwan will do well to make a similar impact.
"I have always wanted to play overseas and I am thankful for this opportunity to play for Nongbua next year," Izwan said.
"Nongbua have been competitive in the last couple of years and I hope I will be able to make a big difference to the club. I want to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.
"Hopefully, this will be a good test for me and help in my development as a goalkeeper. Of course, I would still like to play for bigger clubs in bigger leagues in the future but my priority now is to do well with Nongbua next season."
Nongbua were promoted from Thailand's third tier this year and had an excellent run to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. The club's head coach is former S.League player Theerawekin Seehawong, and Izwan believes this will help him settle in what is very much a career move.
"My move to Thailand is not motivated by money," Izwan said. "I am determined to push myself and this is a great opportunity.
"I know I have to make some sacrifices, but I hope this new challenge will reap benefits in the future.
"There will be some adjustments but I don't think they are major. Nongbua coach [Theerawekin Seehawong] used to play in the S.League, and I have been in touch with him so I believe he can help me adapt and I am confident I can fit nicely into the team."
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK