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Football: Izwan Mahbud plots comeback after injuries, form slump

After his heroics against Japan in 2015, Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud has slipped off the radar. But he wants to use 2017 to bounce back and revive his hopes of playing abroad.
After a horrible 2016, Izwan Mahbud is raring to go for the new season. His goals include winning trophies for Tampines, regaining the Lions No. 1 jersey and impressing foreign scouts.
After a horrible 2016, Izwan Mahbud is raring to go for the new season. His goals include winning trophies for Tampines, regaining the Lions No. 1 jersey and impressing foreign scouts.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

It would be fair to say 2016 was a nightmare year for Tampines Rovers goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud. Plagued by niggling injuries, he missed chunks of the season, in the process losing his starting spot in the national team.

The bad spell culminated in a blunder in the Singapore Cup final last October, when he dallied on a back pass and allowed Albirex Niigata striker Atsushi Kawata to score the opening goal. Tampines would lose 0-2.

All this was in contrast to 2015, when an 18-save performance during Singapore's 0-0 away draw with Japan catapulted him to stardom. It earned him a week-long training stint with Japanese side Matsumoto Yamaga.

An uncharacteristic frown slithered across the usually convivial Izwan's face as he recalled the travails of the past year.

"It was a bad year for me. After my injury it just went downhill. For the Cup final mistake, I didn't think Kawata would press me. I was very angry because I disappointed the team," said Izwan.

"I had a quick read of some of the negative comments on Facebook. But I like to turn negative moments into positive ones and for me it's motivation to work even harder, to be even better than I was yesterday and to prove people wrong."

 

The comments could not get to him because the 26-year-old has been in the pits before.

At the age of 15, he was on the verge of being dropped from the National Football Academy (NFA) for repeatedly skipping training.

"I just didn't look at football as a career. When you're young all you want to do is have fun and I was skipping training to play street soccer every day," said the 2013 Malaysian Super League winner.

That all changed when then-NFA coach Kadir Yahaya hauled him and his parents down for a talk.

Izwan, a striker who only started playing in goal at 14 when his Sunday league team had no goalkeeper, recalled: "Coach Kadir told me I can make money from doing something I love and it requires only two hours a day. 'Why wouldn't you make this your career?', he asked me.

"It hit me hard. If not for the talk I don't know what I'll be doing now. Coach Kadir really helped me a lot."

From then on Izwan, who spends his free time scouring for YouTube videos of top goalkeepers training, began his climb to the top, although there was the rare lapse.

Once, before a Prime League match, he was sent home by coach Yacob Hashim for arriving one minute after reporting time.

"I couldn't even stay to watch," Izwan recalled.

Now fully fit, the Stags custodian said of the team's ambition this season: "We're trying to win every title. We have a new coach, a new style of football and we are looking forward to the new season."

Club glory aside, he also wants to wrest back the Lions No. 1 jersey from Hassan Sunny, who, having overcome his own injury problems, has been stellar for the Lions.

"As a player you always want to play. You don't want to be sitting on the bench but it's a friendly competition between us. We help push each other to our full potential," said Izwan, who played every match as the Lions won their fourth AFF Championship in 2012.

The Manchester United fan's ultimate goal though, lies further afield. The Yamaga adventure has stoked his dream of playing abroad and he hopes a good season with Tampines will impress suitors.

That fellow NFA batch mates Hariss Harun (Spain) and Hafiz Sujad (Thailand) have all joined overseas outfits has only served as fuel to put in a good shift this year.

"I want to get out my comfort zone and try a new environment. When you play overseas there is more pressure to perform and that's how you reach your full potential," said Izwan.

"My time in Yamaga was a real eye-opener and I will consider any offers that come."

At the end of the interview, as the camera crew was clearing up, he picked up two chairs the crew loaned from the Sports Hub library, slung them over his shoulder and walked towards the library.

"I can help to return lah," he said amid protestations to leave the chairs behind.

His character remains grounded though Izwan is determined to soar to new heights in 2017.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Izwan plots comeback after injuries, form slump'. Print Edition | Subscribe