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Football: Thailand-bound Gabriel Quak wants to excel and inspire

Singapore winger Gabriel Quak puts pen to paper on his one-season deal with Thai League 1 side Navy in Chonburi last Friday, watched by the club's general manager Niwat Jitpoolphol.
Singapore winger Gabriel Quak puts pen to paper on his one-season deal with Thai League 1 side Navy in Chonburi last Friday, watched by the club's general manager Niwat Jitpoolphol. PHOTO COURTESY OF GABRIEL QUAK

With the Thai League 1 (T1) kicking off this Sunday, Singapore international winger Gabriel Quak inked a one-season deal with Navy last Friday in Chonburi.

While there are currently more than 10 national players plying their trade abroad, the 27-year-old is the only Chinese among them.

He is also believed to be the first Singaporean Chinese outfield national player to earn a professional overseas contract - goalkeepers Edmund Wee and David Lee signed for Hong Kong's South China and Indonesia's Niac Mitra respectively in the 1980s.

"I'm happy and excited about this move. There was interest from four T1 teams in September and October last year, but there was no concrete offer so I had given up on playing abroad this season," said Quak, who had moved from Geylang International to Warriors FC, who were compensated for the late switch, in the off-season.

The Thai stint would represent a baptism of fire for him but this is not the first time that he has had to overcome doubts and obstacles.

He was just eight when he was inspired by Nwankwo Kanu's 15-minute hat-trick that helped Arsenal turn a 0-2 deficit into a 3-2 win over Chelsea in 1999, and gradually developed into a fleet-footed attacker.

"My parents were concerned I was neglecting my studies and some of my secondary school teachers told me not to waste my time," said Quak.

Even after he made it through the ranks of the National Football Academy, his involvement in the Young Lions-Beijing Guoan brawl led to a four-month ban in 2010.

Enlistment ensued, and not being able to secure time off to train and play for the most of two years created further disillusionment.

But one of the eight tattoos he has reads "Le succes est la meilleure revanche", which translates into "Success is the best revenge".

He said: "I wanted to prove to the doubters that it is possible for me to make a living out of football."

His senior career has yielded 10 goals in 80 games for the LionsXII and a Malaysian Super League title in 2013. Over the last two seasons, Quak scored six goals in 47 appearances for Geylang.

Navy finished 13th out of 18 teams last season with 42 goals - more than only bottom side Jumpasri United's 31.

They are banking on Quak to give them an attacking boost in their quest to finish in the top half this term.

He added: "I'm in my prime and I'm not going to Navy to make up the numbers. I want to contribute pace, assists and goals.

"I think I'm at the right age for the move and I'm more mature."

Things have also gone swimmingly for him off the pitch. In 2016, he married Melissa Teo and the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Gladys.

Last Thursday, he teamed up with national skipper Shahril Ishak and three other partners for the soft launch of Ole Thai Steamboat at the Mukmin Restaurant in Bedok North, a day before he completed the Navy deal.

While he seems to have a lot on his plate with fatherhood, football and a food business, Quak insists he will not compromise on the quality of each role.

He said: "As a father, whatever I do now, my priority is Gladys' future. As a footballer in Singapore, there are insecurities and worries so I need to think of options I can do concurrently, which led to this F&B venture.

"But there are 24 hours in a day. It doesn't mean I am neglecting football even as I pour time and effort into this business. I'm confident of doing well in every aspect."

Quak hopes to excel in his Thai stint to inspire more Chinese footballers here to take the sport seriously.

"I have no regrets in my football career. I have had parents coming up to me for advice for their children and I told them the same thing - don't have any regrets," he said.

"If everyone pulls in the same direction and gets it right, football can be a viable career here.

"I'm one of few Chinese players to play professionally here, but we are starting to see more like Emmeric Ong and Ho Wai Loon do so and younger ones like Lionel Tan and Gareth Hui emerging.

"If we continue to do well, we can inspire future generations of footballers, not just Chinese ones."

Quak, who has 21 caps and two international goals, is also aiming for a first call-up since last June for November's Suzuki Cup.

"I have played well enough to earn a move to a top-division Thai team, and I want to continue doing well with Navy and not think of what I cannot control," he said.

"The national team have not had good results, but we have a good opportunity to redeem ourselves by doing well at the Suzuki Cup."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2018, with the headline Football: Thailand-bound Gabriel Quak wants to excel and inspire. Subscribe