Singapore keeper Sunny's Thailand debut quietens the doubters
The Army United FC fans' page was effusive in its praise of their new foreign goalkeeper: "Big, strong, agile and very commanding in the box," gushed the English language website.
Singapore's Hassan Sunny marked his competitive debut in Thailand with a clean sheet as Army United overcame Navy FC 1-0 in a tight affair in Bangkok on Saturday. The home support left impressed with the 2014 S-League Player of the Year who is the first Singaporean custodian to play in Thailand's top flight.
In truth, Sunny did not have a particularly busy night as Navy set out with a negative formation and looked to be playing for a draw. However, when called into action, he looked confident and dealt well with any danger.
In the first half, he came out a long way to claim a cross and, in the process, knocked over Navy's towering Honduran striker, Georgie Welcome. Then, at the beginning of the second period, he clawed away a powerful effort from David Bayiha.
Sunny spoke modestly about his performance and told ESPN FC: "It was not an easy match for me personally because we had to protect our lead in the second half, having scored just before half-time. But I think I did fairly well - I give myself six out of 10."
When asked about the differences between the game in Thailand and the S-League, Sunny added: "TPL and S-League have many differences in terms of the way football is played. Intensity is much higher in Thailand. Players run a lot here and movement is much quicker."
Eyebrows were raised when Sunny signed for the TPL side. Thai media questioned the wisdom of using one of the precious foreign quota spots for a goalkeeper.
Army head coach Gary Stevens dismissed this view and told ESPN FC "To have a successful season, we need a very good goalkeeper. I originally wanted to keep last season's keeper, Sarawut Konglarp, and bring in another keeper to push him. However, Sarawut moved to Bangkok Glass and I pushed the board to sign Hassan. After much negotiation, the club backed me and we managed to get him signed. Time will tell if it's the right decision but for a good season, we need key players in key positions and goalkeeper is a key position."
Sunny also brushed aside the doubters and added: "It's not my job to worry about that. The coach wants me here and I will try to make sure I prove the critics wrong."
When Stevens was asked how the transfer came about, he said: "I know John Burridge, who has been working as a goalkeeping coach with the Singapore national team for the past 12 months. He recommended having a look at Hassan and I had the opportunity to see him at the AFF Suzuki Cup at the end of last year.
"While some people may look at the large number of goals that Singapore conceded in that tournament, I saw a goalkeeper with presence, a good size, dominant on crosses and a good kicker of the ball. He has all the attributes you need as a modern goalkeeper. He is a footballer and is good with his feet."
The former Warriors FC shot-stopper agrees on the importance of being able to play a bit and looks to Bayern Munich and German keeper, Manuel Neuer, for inspiration. He said: "Now, everywhere in the world, goalkeepers are trained to be modern keepers like Neuer. Goalkeepers need to get more involved in terms of keeping possession, like Neuer is doing now. Having said that, it is not easy because one wrong pass, and it will end up in the goal."
When asked if there was a keeper he would compare Sunny to, Stevens added: "Strangely enough, I was watching Bangkok United last night and thought their goalkeeper, Kittipong Phuthawchueak, looked quite similar to Hassan. I also feel he has some similarities with the Muang Thong United and Thai international keeper, Kawin Thamsatchanan. People sometimes underestimate the importance of Kawin to Muang Thong. Last season, there were many times when they won games or sneaked a point because of the saves he made. Hopefully, Hassan can have that kind of influence for us."
Whatever happens in the season ahead, one thing for sure is that the TPL's only foreign goalkeeper has made a very positive first impression. Army fans will hope that his longer term impact can be similar to Kawin or, dare we say it, Manuel Neuer at Bayern.
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