Football: LionsXII defender Shakir Hamzah vows to make good

I was thinking only about football. Football, football, football.

Hours after his release from detention yesterday, LionsXII defender Shakir Hamzah opened up about the circumstances that led to his four-day sentence.

"I wanted to be with the team so much, I didn't think of anything else," he said. "It is all my fault and I am sorry."

With his head shaven like all national service (NS) detainees, the 20-year-old was contrite as he spoke to the media near his family home in Bishan last night.

"All the blame is on me," said Shakir, who on May 17 left without permission after his NS duties for the Singapore Police Force, and travelled to Kuantan for a Malaysian Super League (MSL) match against Pahang that evening, which ended 1-1.

Having used up his five days of leave - something that the team were aware of - the Singapore international told LionsXII officials that he had been given the green light to play by his supervisors.

Footballers representing Singapore can get time off. However, as the LionsXII are a club, players are required to apply for leave, or request time off, from their NS units to show up for matches and training.

Full-time national servicemen get 14 days of leave annually - a figure that is pro-rated in the year that they complete their service.

Shakir was charged with the offence last Friday - his original operationally-ready date.

He has also been suspended by the Football Association of Singapore from all football activities, pending a disciplinary committee (DC) hearing, and is likely to miss Saturday's top-of-the-table MSL clash against Johor Darul Takzim at Jalan Besar Stadium.

The past four days alone in a cell, sleeping on a mattress and staring at the four walls, gave him some time for reflection.

"My first step out of the cell today was a step towards becoming a better person," vowed the youngster, who has been one of the LionsXII's outstanding performers this season.

Since news of his misdemeanour broke, both the FAS and teammates have alluded to the player's past problems off the pitch, which extended to family issues.

They do agree, however, that Shakir has shown a willingness to change in recent months - something which could prove pivotal when the DC convenes.

"I'll accept whatever punishment they mete out," he said in a sombre voice. That air of resignation, however, was tempered by the outpouring of support from fans who have taken to Facebook and Twitter, with posts under the hashtag #FreeShakirHamzah.

"I'm stunned that the fans have shown support even though I myself created all these problems," he said. "I owe them, and my family, a lot.

"But the only way that I can show I am a changed man is through my actions. Just by saying is not enough. I need to prove this to Singapore."

Shakir can count on the support of the man who matters most - national coach Bernd Stange.

The German, who took charge of the Lions last month, named Shakir in his first squad and believes that the player still has a bright future ahead of him.

"He's a very talented player and I have my eye on him," Stange confirmed yesterday.

"Youngsters make mistakes but he will have my full support to learn from that. He should be fined for what he did - that's it."

The national coach did, however, add that he expects players to "respect discipline, both on and off the pitch".

Only then, he stressed, will relations between the FAS and its players' NS units improve.

"The priority will always be NS," Stange said. "But if we can work together to bring players out for training sessions, trips or matches, it would be great.

"That's why we need our players to be disciplined and that is something we will manage very carefully."

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