In the five years since he burst into the Malaysian football scene with club side T-Team, Safawi Rasid has gone from strength to strength and has now become an undisputed vital cog in the Johor Darul Ta’zim and Malaysia national teams.
A modern forward who operates in wider positions, it has been an incredible journey thus far for the Dungun-born attacker, but at still only 23 years of age, the journey is very much at the very start and with more experience and maturity, his peak years are yet to come.
Which in itself is a big statement of the potential Safawi possesses, given that he is already seen as one of the best players around the Southeast Asia region, if not all of Asia. His progression and increasing game maturity is a mark of a determined individual who is giving his all for his burgeoning career.
The owner of JDT, HRH Major General Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim is a firm believer in the potential of Safawi, as was shown by his determination to sign the player for his club in 2017. The Crown Prince of Johor is confident that JDT is the right platform for Safawi to realise his potential.
"Safawi is a top player who portrays professionalism at JDT. He is a very talented player with a bright future and I'm confident he will make decisions that will help him succeed. Like how it is with everyone part of the JDT family, I'm with Safawi all the way and the club will do our utmost in ensuring only the best for Safawi's career,” said Tunku Ismail in a club statement earlier this year.
It was Indonesian coach Rahmad Darmawan who gave Safawi his first foray into professional football in 2015 when the latter was barely even 18 years old. A year later and the duo combined to help a small club like T-Team to the semi-final of the Malaysia Cup for the very first time in the club’s history.
"I saw Safawi as someone who was very talented compared to players at his age at that time," Rahmad told Goal.
"He already had strong muscle structures, even more than some of the senior players at that time. He was quick, could shoot very well and was already capable of handling strong contacts and challenges.
"More than that, I could see that he has a good character, wanted to train hard and train well. So with all that, I had very little hesitation in giving him starts and I even put him on free-kick duties!"
There is a marked difference in how Safawi played then and how he plays now. Back then he was a raw precocious forward who just wanted to take on everybody and have shots at goal. The Safawi now has gained far more footballing nous and has developed a better thought process on his decision makings.
Making the transition to JDT from T-Team was an easy enough decision for Safawi to make, but not without its fair share of obstacles and challenges. From a clear starter at his previous club to arriving at a new club where the star status no longer belonged to him, Safawi had to adapt fast.
He won his first Super League title in 2017 with JDT but did not see much game starts in that season. But instead of wallowing, Safawi just worked harder and began to lean on those around him who have far more experience.The 2018 and 2019 season saw him being given more opportunities and he’s aware who to thank for that.
"As everyone knows, JDT are a big club. So the environment here is what pushed me to grow up faster and better. I feel that I've matured quicker on and off the pitch thanks to the support of the people at the club. Of course I'm also forever grateful to T-Team and what they have done for me. They were the ones who put their trust in me and I owe them a whole lot of gratitude.
"It's not easy to succeed at JDT because the challenge is very high with so many experienced stars and very high-quality players. It helps me grow as a player when I have people who have played UEFA Champions League and with big teams in Europe training and playing together.
"There's also a very good culture at the club of the more senior players being very helpful and offer words of advice to younger players like me. With everything in place, I can fully concentrate on doing what I'm needed to do, which is to be disciplined and continue to work extremely hard to keep my place,” Safawi told Goal.
Having established himself as a permanent fixture in the JDT first team, Safawi has also done the same on the international front with Harimau Malaya. He’s not only one of the first names in the squad but on the team sheet as well. Tan Cheng Hoe sees Safawi as a prominent member of the national team and the performance would justify so.
At the club level, Safawi is often used from a right-sided position to enable him to come onto his favoured left foot, giving him the opportunity to unleash his shooting prowess. But for Malaysia, Safawi was often asked to operate from the left side and while that takes away some of his impact, he continues to produce the goods.
His brace against Indonesia in their last competitive match is giving Malaysia a real push to reach the next phase of the World Cup qualifiers and Cheng Hoe is another one who is seeing first hand the determined character that Safawi has despite his rise to prominence.
"Everyone can see the improvements he has been showing in every match. He's a better player now that he works hard in training and gives 100 per cent in matches, while he always stays humble by remaining committed to getting better. He has a bright future with Malaysia," said Cheng Hoe in 2019.
As JDT continue their assault on Asia in the AFC Champions League and Malaysia aim to become a feared opponent in the region once again, there’s very little doubt that Safawi Rasid will play a huge role in those two journeys.
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