AFF Suzuki Cup 2016

Football: Sunny side up for Hassan

Singapore's first-choice goalkeeper, Hassan Sunny.
Singapore's first-choice goalkeeper, Hassan Sunny. ST PHOTO: LIN SIN THAI

Moving past his injury hell, Lions' first-choice goalie is finally ready to be depended upon

At last, the long and winding road to the top is a thing of the past, but Hassan Sunny does not think he has reached his destination yet.

Rather, his journey as Singapore's first-choice goalkeeper has only begun.

The 32-year-old is likely to start tomorrow's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group A opener against co-hosts Philippines. Daunting as it may be against the fast and physical Azkals, the shot-stopper will be relied upon to bolt the door shut.

Finally, after 12 years as an international, Hassan is getting the recognition that his grit, pluck and dedication deserve.

The 1.85m goalkeeper, who plays in Thailand for Army United, said: "I'm a patient man on and off the field. My hard work is paying off after waiting so long for my turn.

"If given a chance to start, I will take it for sure.

"It's nice to be part of the first XI and it's a good sign that I played in six out of seven games under (caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy)."

Sundram reciprocated with this appraisal: "Hassan is a commanding figure at the back. When he shouts, the entire defence listens."

But it had all started so differently for Hassan, who now has 59 caps.

In one of his first games under ex-national coach Raddy Avramovic in 2004, the Lions were steamrollered 7-0 by Oman.

Unknown to many, Hassan forgot to bring along his contact lenses for the match. But he insisted: "I don't want to make excuses, it was just one of those days when everything went wrong."

Throughout the interview, it was clear that the man does not hide. He faces opponents by diving at their feet, and he tackles his demons by grabbing them by the horns.

In 2011, Hassan tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Upon recovery, he ruptured the same tissue again. That sidelined him for two years, a period that saw the rise of former LionsXII custodian Izwan Mahbud.

Hassan recalled: "I spent almost two years out. It was not easy to come back. The days were long, starting at 8am, until 5pm. I spent many hours alone in the gym.

"Those two injuries changed my life. I assessed my career, at how to take care of my body. I consulted a nutritionist to learn how to eat right. On my off days, I have no carbs. My waistline dropped from 38 (inches) to 32."

The honours duly followed. In 2014, he was named the S-League's Player of the Year - the first goalkeeper to win the award - as he inspired Warriors FC to an unlikely championship.

Starring for Army United this year, he was named in British newspaper The Telegraph's list of the world's top 20 goalkeepers, alongside superstars like Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon and David de Gea.

Even though Army were relegated from the Thai Premier League, Hassan has vowed to stick with his club. He prefers to wear a cape these days to work, pulling off superhuman saves.

For him, white flags are strictly a no-no. Success for him came late, very late, but he is enjoying every bit of it.

Sounding satisfied, he said: "I took the effort. It was a painful journey but it was one that changed my life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2016, with the headline 'Sunny side up for Hassan'. Print Edition | Subscribe