Football: Injured stalwarts resolve to return, play under Sundram

Fazrul Nawaz (left) and Shahdan Sulaiman hope to link up again with coach V. Sundramoorthy.
Fazrul Nawaz (left) and Shahdan Sulaiman hope to link up again with coach V. Sundramoorthy.ST PHOTO: YOGARAJ PANDITURAI

Striker Fazrul Nawaz and midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman were overjoyed at the appointment of V. Sundramoorthy as national football caretaker coach in May.

They were first-team regulars for the 50-year-old when he was in charge of S-League club Tampines Rovers, immediately before he took on the Lions job.

In addition to the prospects of working with a familiar figure in the national team, the duo were also champing at the bit to play in the year-end Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup under a local coach for the first time.

They had played for Serbian Raddy Avramovic and German Bernd Stange in previous AFF Cup campaigns.

But both stalwarts suffered serious injuries that cast a shadow over their respective Cup ambitions.

Fazrul will be sidelined for about seven months after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament last month in an S-League match, an injury that necessitates wearing a knee brace.

The 31-year-old said: "Shahdan and I could have been part of an all-local national squad for the first time in our lives, and it would have been a big thing for us. But this is football and injuries do happen. It's out of our control.

"We know Sundram well and how he expects the team to behave on the field. Playing under him in the AFF Cup would have been a fruitful experience."

Shahdan, who is expected to be out until next month, still has a faint hope of making the team for the biennial tournament, which kicks off in November.

He was injured during a League Cup game in July, a recurrence of a hairline fracture on his right fibula in an AFC Cup tie.

"It's a race against time," said the 28-year-old, who was part of the triumphant AFF Cup team in 2012.

"But as much as I want to come back and play in the AFF Cup, I don't want to rush myself and risk injury again."

"It's very frustrating to keep getting injured in the same leg. To get hit there again is just depressing."

The players' layoff has also cast a cloud over their club careers, as both are on one-year contracts - a common practice in the S-League.

"It's definitely a worry for us because it's something at the back of everybody's mind when signing a contract," Shahdan said.

"An injury affects a lot of factors regarding a contract, like the duration or even the salary. Currently, we should be fine at our clubs but it's something we have to be mindful of."

Nonetheless, Fazrul and Shahdan will not let their injuries dictate their respective futures and remain optimistic about performing at a high level for years to come.

Two-time AFF Cup winner Fazrul said: "We still consider ourselves young and we still have a long way to go. This year will definitely not be the last AFF Cup opportunity for us.

"If we perform on the pitch, keep in shape and dedicate ourselves to club and country, I'm confident we'll still be in contention to play in the next few AFF Cups."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Injured stalwarts resolve to return, play under Sundram'. Print Edition | Subscribe