SINGAPORE - In 2008, a teenage Gabriel Quak watched from the back of a hotel ballroom as Aleksandar Duric and Khairul Amri picked up the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards respectively at the S-League Awards.
Then a player with the Young Lions, the 17-year-old dreamt of standing on that same stage one day.
Quak's goal was fulfilled on Monday night (Dec 7) at the Football Association of Singapore Awards Night when the Lion City Sailors forward was crowned Player of the Year at The Gym at Jalan Besar. He was rewarded for a consistent performance this season with five goals and eight assists in 14 games.
The 29-year-old told The Straits Times: "It's been a long journey full of ups and downs. I was in the spotlight early on in my career because I was a minority, and it was both physically and mentally draining.
"There were times when I wondered if I was cut out for this, and I'm thankful for my family, coaches and teammates for helping me to persevere and grow stronger as a person."
While undeniably talented and fleet-footed, Quak he did not always get as much playing time as he would have liked.
But after playing for the Young Lions, LionsXII and Geylang International, a stint at Thai League 1 side Navy in 2018 expanded his horizons and helped him to be more focused in his career.
"I reflected on what I wanted to achieve, and I told myself I wanted to stamp my authority and leave a mark in these last six to seven years of my playing career," he said.
"I'm grateful for teams that give me freedom to express myself and show what I can do, and I'm glad to achieve one of these personal targets. My next goal must be to win the league."
The FAS Awards Night saw a Sailors double as Saifullah Akbar was named Young Player of the Year, following a breakthrough season with two goals in 11 games.
The 21-year-old said: "My goal this season was to be playing week in, week out, and I achieved that thanks to the help of Coach Aurelio Vidmar and my teammates."
"I didn't expect to win this and it is a special feeling. Hopefully, this is the start of something greater and we can win the league, do well in the AFC Cup, and I can break into the national team."
The Coach of the Year gong went to Keiji Shigetomi, who led Albirex Niigata to their fourth Singapore Premier League (SPL) title in five years this term.
Acknowledging the work of the club's players and staff, as well as support from sponsors and fans, the 41-year-old said: "There is always pressure to win at this club, but we took it game by game and won the league, and we will take the same approach next season."
After the successful completion of the 25th SPL season in a coronavirus-impacted year, outstanding individuals from the campaign were recognised across nine categories at the awards.
FAS Recognition Awards were also given to eight individuals, with national captain Hariss Harun, who earned 100 international caps, and Tampines Rovers forward Jordan Webb, who reached 100 SPL goals since his debut in 2010, lauded for their sporting excellence.
Player of the year: Gabriel Quak (Lion City)
Young player of the year: Saifullah Akbar (Lion City)
Coach of the year: Keiji Shigetomi (Albirex)
Goal of the year: Khairul Nizam(Geylang)
Top scorer: Stipe Plazibat (Lion City, 14)
Fair Play Award: Albirex
Referee of the year: A'Qashah Al'Badowe
Assistant referee of the year: Ronnie Koh
Team of the year: Goalkeeper: Syazwan Buhari (Tampines), Defenders: Kaishu Yamazaki, Tajeli Salamat (Lion City), Daniel Bennett (Tampines), Kazuki Hashioka (Albirex), Midfielders: Gabriel Quak, Song Ui-young (Lion City), Kristijan Krajcek (Balestier), Kyoga Nakamura (Tampines), Forwards: Stipe Plazibat (Lion City), Luiz Junior (Tg Pagar).