Football: 'Adulting' Ikhsan finds his footing in Norway

With many of the 7,000 Raufoss inhabitants now familiar with Singapore striker Ikhsan Fandi's name, it seems like the Raufoss No. 18 has taken to Norwegian football like fish to water, or like a salmon surging upstream. PHOTO: MARIUS MYKLESET

SINGAPORE - He may still be some way off his ultimate ambition of playing in a top European league, but Singapore striker Ikhsan Fandi is definitely making progress in the right direction, after scoring his first two goals in Norway's second division for Raufoss IL on May 12 and 16.

And the 20-year-old told The Straits Times he is not just growing in confidence on the pitch, he is also learning life lessons off it.

He said: "In Norway, I'm really adulting! When my brother (Irfan Fandi) and I lived and trained in Chile in 2014 and 2015, there were people taking care of me.

"But now, I'm learning to be independent and I think I'm doing well. The only thing I still don't like to do is laundry and I'm lazy to iron stuff. But overall, it is definitely a good life experience for me."

Home in Raufoss - an 80-minute drive from Norway's capital Oslo - is one of four two-bedroom apartments in a house. Ikhsan shares his apartment with another youngster, 20-year-old defender Parfait Bizoza.

"It's five minutes from our home ground, cosy and just nice for both of us," said Ikhsan. "We get along well. Parfait used to be the only one cooking and I would do more of the cleaning, but now I have learnt to cook simple dishes so I help out too.

"I brought an air fryer, which we don't use much of now, and a rice cooker to Norway. We usually eat rice, salmon with some sauce, or chicken pasta, and Parfait makes lasagne and tacos sometimes."

While he is starting to catch the eye with some sharp finishes - his first was a dramatic bicycle-kick winner in the 3-2 away victory over Skeid, and his second was a towering header in the 5-2 home defeat by Sandnes Ulf - Ikhsan picked functional over flashy for his ride, with the Volkswagen Golf.

He said: "There is not much to do in Raufoss itself as it is a small municipal centre. There is a bowling centre and cinema 10 minutes away in the larger town Gjovik, but I usually stay home to watch drama series like Game of Thrones or play video games.

"Sometimes, we would drive about five minutes to my teammates Oskar Loken and Thierry Dabove's place to play Fortnite."

With many of the 7,000 Raufoss inhabitants now familiar with Ikhsan's name - the 2,500-capacity Nammo Stadion is almost full for home games - it seems like the Raufoss No. 18 has taken to Norwegian football like fish to water, or like a salmon surging upstream.

The environment certainly helps. With little distraction in Raufoss, Ikhsan is able to focus on becoming better.

Typically, his team play one league match a week, usually on a Sunday. The next day is spent on recovery, and the following day is the only day off. They will then spend the four days before the match training and preparing for the game. These sessions are under two hours and once a week, they have double sessions. In addition to the Nammo Stadion, which is laid with a top-grade artificial pitch, Raufoss also has an indoor arena for training during winter.

Ikhsan said: "Once the season starts, we also go to the gym on our own. After each training session, I will stay behind and do extra shooting and heading. I always want to improve my finishing and composure.

"Raufoss are a young team in which everyone wants to improve and everyone is pushing each other to become better."

Since arriving in Raufoss for trials and signing a two-year deal in January, Ikhsan has done well to chalk off quite a few milestones, including making seven league appearances - all off the bench - amid wintry conditions to make an impression.

There are more on his to-do list, such as earning his first league start, scoring 10 goals to help his team stay in the Obos-ligaen, and attracting the attention of bigger clubs.

Ikhsan said: "The Obos-ligaen is a high-intensity and very physical league with many skilful players. I still play as a striker in the team, so I don't think I have changed my style too much. I just have to work harder to win the duels and get to the ball first. It's little things like these that sometimes prove to be the difference.

"The main differences between the football here and in Singapore are the quality and intensity. The players here are stronger, and most of them have good technique and first touch.

"But some things don't change. As a striker, scoring goals is the most important thing. I also try to help my team by holding the ball well, providing link-up play, and making good movements to create space for my team.

"Of course, I was anxious and eager to prove myself as quickly as I can, and I'm happy and relieved to have scored my first goals for the club. I will continue to work hard to become the best footballer I can be and hopefully go on to have a fruitful career for club and country."

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