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Plenty left in the tank for golden oldie Bennett

Retirement is not on defender Daniel Bennett's mind despite turning 40. His consistency earned him a new two-year S-League deal with Tampines Rovers.
Retirement is not on defender Daniel Bennett's mind despite turning 40. His consistency earned him a new two-year S-League deal with Tampines Rovers.PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

As the S-League gears itself for a defining season next month, with a flurry of changes to inject young blood to rejuvenate the ailing competition, a senior figure is still one of its leading lights.

Defender Daniel Bennett, who turned 40 on Jan 7, is still going strong despite reaching the age milestone, and he is determined to repay Tampines Rovers' faith in awarding him a new two-year deal.

And the finish line is not on the horizon as the veteran, who has made a record 141 international appearances for Singapore, intends to see out his contract and beyond.

Bennett told The Straits Times: "It (retirement) is something that I don't really think about.

"I just enjoy playing and every year, I push myself to keep going. As long as I can keep up with the younger players, as long as I feel strong enough, I am good enough.

"I don't feel like I had lost my pace, I was never lightning quick to start with. But over the years, I had adjusted my game to cope with the pacy players. By thinking faster, I give myself more space (to react)."

FASTIDIOUS ABOUT HEALTH

I don't cut corners... No greasy food, I am up at 6am to send my kids to school, I walk the dog after training and am in bed by 11pm.

DANIEL BENNETT, Tampines Rovers defender, advocates clean living.

The oldest footballer to play in the S-League was Aleksandar Duric, who retired in 2014 at the age of 44.

And just like the Bosnia-born striker, Bennett has credited his longevity to hard training and a disciplined lifestyle.

He said: "There's no secret, really. It is just lots of hard work and living healthily.

"I don't cut corners during training and in my lifestyle. As I got older, I started to take even greater care of my body. No greasy food, I am up at 6am to send my kids to school, I walk the dog after training and I am in bed by 11pm."

It is such dedication to his craft that earned Benett, who can play anywhere across the backline, a new contract when many others younger than him have wound up their playing careers.

Tampines chairman Desmond Ong said: "With Daniel, age is truly just a number. The shape he is in and the way he looks after himself is an inspiration to all young players.

"Apart from that, his attitude and professionalism are also first class. We had no hesitation in tying him down to a two-year contract at the first available opportunity."

But the 2018 version of the S-League can be unforgiving for older players as local clubs are required to start every game with at least three Under-23 players and each squad can sign up to eight aged 30 and under. Players also have to pass the gruelling Yo-Yo test, which is a multi-stage shuttle run, before they can be registered.

Bennett, who timed 8min 46sec in the 2.4km run last year, feels the veterans can still contribute, saying: "I feel sorry for the players who lost their jobs (because of the age policies). A lot of them are quality players and a lot of them are friends.

"It seems strange they are no longer involved because of their age. Whether (the rules) are right or wrong, we'll see."

In a long and decorated career, the England-born defender, who has lived in Singapore since childhood and was naturalised in 2002, has seen more ups than downs.

Bennett, who won five S-League titles with former club Warriors FC, fondly recalls the three Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup titles (2004, 2007 and 2012) he won under former national coach Raddy Avramovic, with the latter two triumphs on Thai soil.

He has also played professionally in England, turning out for Wrexham from 2002-2003 in an eventful spell that saw him win the 2003 Football Association of Wales Premier Cup and yo-yoing between divisions.

He said: "With the national team, we won two AFF Cups under Raddy beating the Thais.

"It is not by chance that we beat them twice and we beat them away. That was very impressive.

"My time in England was very memorable. With Wrexham, I won the Cup, got promoted (from the Third Division) and relegated all in two years."

There was also a flip side, too, as he witnessed how his chosen industry is now experiencing a slump.

Looking back, he said: "If you compare with the leagues around the region, you can really see the difference in quality.

"Once, the top Thai players played in Singapore. The best Thai players are now playing in Japan.

"Our best players are also playing in the Thai League, which has progressed by leaps and bounds and the S-League has not been able to keep up.

"Albirex are a good gauge of our league. We could beat them comfortably in the past, but they are now the best and most consistent team. The fact is - the quality of the S-League is not as good as it was."

But he gives the assurance that there is still lots of mileage left in his legs and he will keep on playing and contributing to the local scene.

He said: "As long as the club are happy with me and I am happy with the club, I don't see any reason why I cannot carry on."

Bennett may be a golden oldie but, as they say, gold never rusts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Plenty left in the tank for golden oldie Bennett'. Print Edition | Subscribe