When Precious Emuejeraye was revealed as part of Home United's 2014 S.League team at their pre-season press conference earlier this week, it caught many by surprise.
In fact, the former Singapore international seemed a little taken aback still at how quickly things have moved, as he spoke to Goal Singapore on Friday morning at Bishan Stadium.
Having played in Indonesia for the past four years for Super League sides Sriwijaya, Persija Jakarta, Persiba Balikpapan and Persidafon Dafonsoro, a decrease in the slots for Asian players from two to one saw him return here in November. With Muhammad Ridhuan, who came back for the same reason, securing a contract with Geylang International, Precious was eager to find a new club as well.
The Nigerian-born defender went to Thailand but found that most of the clubs had filled their foreign quota. He decided to come back and as luck would have it, an opportunity arose a couple of days later.
"I took my son for a medical check-up at KK Hospital, which is close to Jalan Besar," Precious recalled. "So I decide to say 'hi' to them (Football Association of Singapore) because I haven’t seen them for a very long time. Then on my way back, I saw some players coming out so I asked which team they were from and they said 'Home United, we just finished training'."
Precious went in to the pitch to drop in on Protectors assistant coach Aidil Sharin, telling him he needed somwhere to train. The latter spoke to head coach Lee Lim Saeng, who agreed. The Korean, however, was initially unaware that Precious was still keen on playing, until a couple of days later. Coincidentally, Home still had room to register one more player.
"He asked me, 'You want to play?' and I said, 'Yeah I want to play' and he said 'okay' and he asked Aidil whether the window was still open," he explained.
"I tell you, I am lucky because a lot of people don’t have this kind of opportunity. Home was the first team I came to and everything just went [smoothly] in the space of five days."
The 30-year-old is still adapting to life back here, but it's been "so far so good" at Bishan Stadium, amongst former team-mates like Indra Sahdan, Noh Rahman and Fazrul Nawaz.
"The foreigners and the locals, they are so welcoming from the very first day since I started training," Precious smiled. "I feel at home. You know at some places, you might still feel like an outcast but the feeling here is good, you don’t get it everywhere."
Precious is confident that he has become a better player after challenging himself overseas, and hopes to use his experience to guide youngsters at the club. Meanwhile, he is still waiting for his International Transfer Certificate to be sent to Home, so he will miss the season-opening Charity Shield.
"I cannot wait to start playing, I want to play against Tampines Rovers, because playing against top teams like them is always good," he wistfully said, adding that he hopes to feature in the subsequent match against Geylang on March 1.
"I still need to train more, I know, but if I am called upon to do my job, I will definitely do my job. That is no problem."
Precious is not bothered by past criticism of his game and added that he is still open to a national team call-up, but insisted he is fully focused on repaying Home for giving him another chance in the S.League at the moment.
"I’ve always played without pressure on myself," he said. "I don’t have to prove myself to everybody, just my employer; my focus is to do my job on the pitch for Home United, that is my priority now."
His family, who have stayed here even while he was playing in Indonesia, is another big factor in his decision to continue playing in Singapore instead of elsewhere. Precious has two sons aged three and one-and-a-half years-old, along with a seven-year-old daughter.
"I want to be close to my kids; my two sons, they don’t know what I do, they always see my pictures but only my daughter knows because I used to bring her to the stadium," he explained.
"So I want them to see, want them to know what I am doing. They see me early in the morning when I am back [then] at night I disappear; it’s not so good for them.
"I am just happy and grateful Home United gave me this opportunity, so I can be close to my family."