Football: Lion to Young Lion

Christopher van Huizen training with the Singapore team last year. The winger's lack of regular first-team football at club level has cost him his place in the national team, who are in Japan on a training tour.
Christopher van Huizen training with the Singapore team last year. The winger's lack of regular first-team football at club level has cost him his place in the national team, who are in Japan on a training tour.THE NEW PAPER FILE PHOTO

Van Huizen joins Garena side in bid to play regularly but fails to make S'pore team for Japan trip

At this time last year, Christopher van Huizen felt he had arrived as a footballer when he featured regularly for the now-defunct LionsXII and was hailed by then-coach Fandi Ahmad as an "impact player".

The 23-year-old contributed three goals and seven assists in 18 appearances for the 2015 Malaysia FA Cup winners as he made his breakthrough and earned his first international cap against Japan. And the winger's impressive displays convinced five-time S-League champions Tampines Rovers to sign him last December.

But now, van Huizen is in football's wilderness. Unable to dislodge Tampines stars Jermaine Pennant and Jordan Webb from the flanks, he has been limited to just nine S-League appearances, including four starts even though he still managed three assists and a goal in those cameos.

To make it doubly worse, the Lions left for a training tour of Japan yesterday morning without him as national caretaker coach V. Sundramoorthy put his faith in wide men like Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak and Hafiz Nor.

OUT TO PROVE A POINT

I will do the best I can here (at Young Lions) and try to get playing time, and prove that I can make it back into the national set-up.

CHRISTOPHER VAN HUIZEN, Garena Young Lions winger.

That prompted him to join bottom side Garena Young Lions during June's transfer window in a bid to secure regular football and an international return.

Van Huizen told The Straits Times: "Tampines are the best club I've ever played for and I've been there since I was a young teen.

"They are just a strong team who are doing really well and I find myself struggling to keep up with the players.

"I won't say (the lack of first-team football) frustrated me but I was more disappointed. I thought I was ready to come back and play in the first team but I just wasn't ready for it yet and I still have a lot to learn."

Van Huizen previously struggled as a reserve for Tampines in 2014 before joining the LionsXII the next year.

However, the skateboard enthusiast is determined to regain his place in the Singapore line-up.

He said: "Most importantly (this year), I just want to fight for my spot in the national team. It's a challenge I'm giving myself this year.

"It really doesn't bother me that I didn't get a call-up but for sure, I am a little disappointed.

"Being in Tampines wasn't going to do me good at the moment because I've not had enough games to prove myself.

"This year, there's the (Asean Football Federation) Suzuki Cup and it's worth a shot trying to get (into the national team).

"I will do the best I can here (at Young Lions) and try to get playing time, and prove that I can make it back into the national set-up.

"I'm glad I've joined the Young Lions to get myself back up and fight to build my confidence again."

Another name keen to don Singapore colours again is van Huizen's former Stags team-mate Shahdan Sulaiman. The 28-year-old is doubtful for the AFF Cup after a recurrence of a hairline fracture in his right leg last week.

Shahdan, who will go for surgery today, said: "I'm very disappointed and this setback will definitely affect (my chances in the national team). But right now, I just need to concentrate on my recovery.

"My doctor said my recovery would take about three months. Of course after that, I will be more determined to make my comeback for Singapore because it's every player's dream to represent the country."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'From Lion to Young Lion'. Print Edition | Subscribe