Football: Forging a career overseas the way to go for Singaporean footballers, says Fandi

A bird in the bush is worth more than two in the hand for Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad as far as his sons' playing careers are concerned.

Despite having offers from Thai League 1 club Bangkok Glass and Chile first division side Universidad Catolica for 20-year-old Irfan and interest from S-League champions Albirex Niigata for 18-year-old Ikhsan, Fandi is doing all he can to help them forge a career in Europe.

English Championship side Leeds and Dutch Eredivisie club Groningen, where Fandi made his name in the 1980s, have been bandied about as possible destinations.

And the 55-year-old former national skipper doesn't feel it is contradictory to send his sons, both eligible for the national Under-23s, out at a time when he is taking over the Young Lions in the S-League.

He said: "Since young, they have had the desire to play professional football overseas and I believe they have the talent to play abroad.

"My belief applies not only to my sons. If young players want to play abroad and have the ability, they have our blessings to do so for the betterment of their playing careers. It also augurs well for the national team when they learn from better leagues, and return to share and contribute.

"We have talented players whom we should export. If we have 10, we should export 10.

 Ikhsan, Iman and Irfan Fandi on the cover of the January 2018 edition of Harper's Bazaar. Fandi's sons are not just making their mark on the pitch but also in fashion.
From left: Ikhsan, Iman and Irfan Fandi on the cover of the January 2018 edition of Harper's Bazaar. Fandi's sons are not just making their mark on the pitch but also in fashion. PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/ HARPERSBAZAARSG

"It doesn't matter if they are my sons or not. What is important is our footballers get high-intensity trainings and games to become better to help the national team."

If Irfan and Ikhsan do receive call-ups to the Asian and SEA Games squads, Fandi will find himself in a unique situation of coaching his sons at international level.

It will undoubtedly be a proud moment but he insists there is no conflict of interest.

"Not at all," he said. "There are many coaches and players who are father and son, one of the most famous pairings was Johan and Jordi Cruyff at Barcelona.

"When they are on the field, they are our players, they are not my sons, and they know it.

 

"I told them from the beginning, 'When you are in my team, you will be treated the same as the rest. You must behave'.

"I think they will have to show more of an example and motivate others because they also want to do well. They have a winning mentality. If they don't, they know they cannot play outside Singapore. So no conflict of interest at all."

David Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Forging a career overseas the way to go: Fandi'. Print Edition | Subscribe