Latest blip no setback for Maier

Armin Maier in action for German fifth-tier semi-pro side Albstadt. He is determined to fulfil a dream of playing professionally.
Armin Maier in action for German fifth-tier semi-pro side Albstadt. He is determined to fulfil a dream of playing professionally.PHOTO COURTESY OF ARMIN MAIER

German-S'porean teen has medical scare but vows no let-up on his national-team target

Last Friday, with his Under-20 team down 0-2 against National Football League side Yishun Sentek Mariners, Fandi Ahmad brought on Armin Maier at half-time to salvage something from the game.

Some would say it was a big test for the 19-year-old half-German, half-Singaporean midfielder. Fandi, after all, is assembling a team to go for gold at the 2019 SEA Games.

But, for Maier, a bigger test took place a day earlier at Changi General Hospital (CGH).

He was undergoing further tests after a routine medical check-up revealed an unusually slow heart rate. There was a risk of sudden cardiac arrest, he was told.

"But I've done these tests before. This is the first time there was something wrong so I was shocked," said Maier, who was born to a German father and a Singaporean mother.

One can imagine why the player was caught off guard.

GOOD GROUNDING

He is strong, his work rate is fantastic, he just needs to fine-tune his passing and understand the international game more.

FANDI AHMAD, national head coach (youth), on 19-year-old Armin Maier's traits.

His well-sculpted 1.78m, 78kg frame, which stretches every fibre of his jersey, paints an image of someone who does not take fitness lightly.

He had also dreamt of becoming a professional footballer since he was eight, when a video of Brazilian legend Ronaldinho juggling a ball caught his eye.

"I told my dad I wanted to be like him and my dad said it would take a lot of hard work. That was when I decided I wanted to play professionally - so I was a little nervous about the tests," said Maier, who wants to represent Singapore some day.

But the Bayern Munich fan is well acquainted with setbacks.

While the fertile football environment in Germany, home of four-time World Cup winners, meant he could go for trials at many top teams including Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, he failed to make the cut at the highest level.

He said: "When I was 13, I went to Dortmund for a trial. I was told that technically I am good enough but I was too small and had no strength."

Instead of crushing him, the criticism fuelled the teenager to build up his fitness. On top of training with his local team, he hit the gym seven days a week.

With no knowledge of bodybuilding, he relied on the Internet and advice from fellow gym users.

"I searched for exercises online and asked people who were bigger and stronger than me in the gym how to work out," said Maier, who was born in Singapore but whose family moved to Germany when he was five.

"I trained mostly by myself because I really wanted to be a professional footballer. I want to be somebody."

Last December, he returned to Singapore to join former local great Fandi on the recommendation of former national midfielder Rafi Ali, a distant relative of his mother, Suzie. She will be here till next month to help him adjust.

"It was an honour to train with Fandi so I came here. There's also a higher chance of playing professionally here than in Germany," said Maier, who was playing for FC 07 Albstadt, a semi-professional outfit in the fifth division prior to arriving in Singapore.

Fandi is eager to see the teenager blossom.

"He is strong, his work rate is fantastic, he just needs to fine-tune his passing and understand the international game more," said the 54-year-old, head coach (youth) at the Football Association of Singapore.

On Thursday, Maier's doctor at CGH gave him the all clear. A day later, with the last kick of the game, he made it 2-2 when he fired a free kick into the top corner. More tests await, but trust the indefatigable youngster to run each obstacle down as he always has.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2017, with the headline 'Latest blip no setback for Maier'. Print Edition | Subscribe