Football: Ilhan Fandi wants to make it big in Europe

Singapore striker Ilhan Fandi donning the jersey of Belgian second-tier club KMSK Deinze at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Dec 13, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE – He is moving to KMSK Deinze, a second-division club in Belgium, but Singaporean footballer Ilhan Fandi already has his sights set on a move to a bigger European club.

The 20-year-old had offers from Thailand, as well as the option of joining Austin FC’s second team in the Major League Soccer (MLS) Next Pro League in the United States, but picked Deinze as he hoped they will be the gateway to Europe’s bright lights.

He told The Straits Times: “Since I was a kid, I always wanted to play in Europe. Now, I want to help the team get into the first division. As for personal goals, I want to get stronger, faster and improve my football.

“Deinze are in a good and tough league, and if I do well, I can move around Europe and inspire Singaporean and other Asian players to do the same.”

The good news is, Deinze owner Hiroyuki Ono is aligned with this thinking.

At the signing ceremony at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday, the 39-year-old said of the 1.5-year contract: “Of course, if he plays well, we will try to sign a longer deal, but we also don’t want to close the doors for him for his next challenges.”

He also shared while Ilhan’s contract starts from Jan 1, Deinze have given the forward their blessing to play in the Dec 20-Jan 16 Asean Football Federation Championship.

Ilhan is the third brother from the illustrious Fandi family to play overseas, and he has already spoken to his sibling Ikhsan, 23, about his experiences dealing with the cold climate and physical nature of playing in Norway with Raufoss (2019-20) and FK Jerv (2020-21).

But when it comes to giving football advice about succeeding in Europe, there are few better experts than his father Fandi Ahmad, who played for Dutch side Groningen from 1983 to 1985 and scored against the mighty Inter Milan in the Uefa Cup.

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Now Pahang coach, the 60-year-old said: “I think this is a good break for him and he chose the right team to go to. It is a good opportunity to express himself. Hopefully, he can get to play in a higher division and a bigger club.

“The important thing is he must stay focused. People in Deinze speak English, but if Ilhan can learn their native Dutch, that would be good for him to adapt and make friends in the team. Team bonding and communication are important.

“European football is physical, so he has to do a lot of strengthening.”

Understandably raring to go, Ilhan said he is ready to carry on the momentum from notching 20 goals and four assists in 2022 with Albirex and the Young Lions, and show off some of his trademark dance moves.

He said: “It’s a good thing I don’t have an off-season yet. I don’t have a goal celebration for Belgium just yet, but you guys will see one when I score.”

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