SINGAPORE -Earlier this month (July 2018), national striker Fazrul Nawaz signed for Singapore Premier League (SPL) club Hougang United on loan from Tampines Rovers, hoping a change of environment might help him rediscover the form that made him the top local scorer in 2014 and 2015.
But, at 33, he knows he is nearing the end of his career as a professional footballer, even if his contract with Tampines runs until the end of 2019.
So four months ago, he began part-time studies for a Diploma in Sport and Exercise Sciences, offered by private education institution PSB Academy.
On Monday, Fazrul received a boost when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and PSB Academy signed a five-year memorandum of understanding (MOU), which will offer all SPL players study grants of up to 15 per cent for their range of certificates, diplomas and university partner degrees. The grants are also offered to FAS staff.
Fazrul, who has 87 caps for the national team and two AFF Suzuki Cup winner's medals, is the first beneficiary of the partnership.
"I have had an eye on my post-playing career and wanted to upgrade myself since I was 28, but it was tough for me at first," Fazrul, a father of three, told The Straits Times on the sidelines of Monday's announcement at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
"The highest academic certificate I had was O levels, because I chose to focus on my football when I was younger, so I did not meet the requirements of many private institutions.
"And, for those I did, the schools or courses were not flexible enough to accommodate my schedule as a professional footballer. I was too shy to ask anyone about it too."
As a footballer, Fazrul mostly trains in the evenings and plays in matches - ranging from four to six times a month - in the evenings or at night.
He says PSB allows him to go for make-up lessons or even tests if he is unable to attend them, provided he has an official written explanation.
Fazrul, who has a nine-year-old daughter and two sons aged seven and one and a half, said: "I've already taken my coaching badges, and will complete my B licence course in September.
"With the diploma, I hope I can work as a fitness coach with maybe FAS or (national sports agency) Sport Singapore. I have to thank FAS and PSB Academy for this partnership which will be a really big help to me."
As part of the MOU, an additional $10,000 worth of rebates will be given to any SPL club that have at least 10 players who enrol for diploma or degree courses at the PSB Academy.
PSB Academy students will also be able to reap benefits from the partnership - the FAS will offer eligible students or graduates opportunities to intern with the national football body, or with local professional clubs.
Said FAS acting general secretary Yazeen Buhari: "With the revamp of the (domestic) league, one of the key areas we identified is to raise the competencies of clubs, officials, coaches and players.
"Besides supporting our players' professional careers on the field, we recognise the need to prepare them for their post-playing careers as well.
"We want to equip our players with the necessary skills and knowledge while they are still in the midst of their playing careers as they make plans for their future."
Derrick Chang, chief executive officer of PSB Academy, said: "This partnership with FAS provides our students real opportunities to gaining exposure to the sports industry, and allow them to pursue career interests in this emerging arena.
"We appreciate that FAS shares the same dedication to youth development and is open to training interns for the betterment of our sports associations - we hope that this transfusion of fresh blood will keep the spirit of innovation and improvement alive within the industry."