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Fandi Speaks of His Best Mates, Holland and Talent

BOOTHYPE scores an interview with Singapore legend, Fandi Ahmad.

Speak to any Singaporean out there and they will know the name “Fandi” even if he/she doesn’t watch football. Being one of Singapore’s most celebrated sons, Fandi Ahmad spearheaded many of the national team’s victories in the good ol’ Malaysia Cup days. Among his playing achievements was his foray into European football, something that was almost unheard of for Asian players back in the ’80s, let alone a young man from tiny Singapore. We sat with Fandi to reminisce about the past and discuss the future of Singapore football.

BOOTHYPE: What’s the favourite moment of your playing career?

Fandi: The goal vs Inter Milan for Groningen in the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) on 19 Oct 1983. When you get a chance to play at the highest level, it sticks with you. I’ve had the chance to score a lot of goals but this was different. In those days, there were only 3 – 4 Asian players in Europe. One was Japanese, the other Korean and Thai. The rest came after years later. It was a big honour for me. People still wonder how this young boy managed to play there….

So how did you get that chance to sign for a European club?

Groningen had scouts in the region. They followed me for 2 years in the Lion City Cup in ’77 and ’78. I was offered a contract but I couldn’t go as I was still in school and had NS commitments. The scouts kept in contact during my NS and I took up the chance after NS. There was a Dutch reporter who was in Singapore and wrote for “Panorama” (a Dutch magazine) at that time. He assisted the Ajax scouts with information and their scout came to Singapore to meet me. “Are you interested to go to Holland for trials?” I thought it was a joke. They invited me back to their place and they showed me all the newspaper clippings of me through those years. I was shocked! I didn’t know much about professional football then but knew they were serious.

Any regrets about things you could have done better at Groningen?

I would prepare myself better. When I arrived in Groningen, it was just after the fasting month and I was not ready physically. I started pre-season with injuries and my strength wasn’t there. During those days, we didn’t do much weights or follow proper nutritional guidelines. I went to play in Kuala Lumpur (KL) for 2 years after my spell in Holland and was looking forward to head back to Groningen. I felt ready. I was at my peak physically and with the experience and maturity I gained since then. It was unfortunate that the transfer got turned down due to work permit issues.

Fandi Ahmad at Groningen taking on Inter Milan.
Fandi Ahmad at Groningen taking on Inter Milan. Photo by FourFourTwo

How important was the physical element for you playing in Europe?

Absolutely important. It’s not just about having the skill or the will to perform, but you need to be physically prepared as the players are stronger and faster than you’d experience back home.

You were one of the best ever players for Singapore. What makes a good player? You seemed to have natural talent.

You must have everything to be successful. Most importantly for the current generation is for them to be very talented. Physical and mental strength are crucial but they need the 3 D’s. Discipline, determination and dedication. And a small “S” – sacrifice. I think with this generation, discipline is challenging to coach as kids now have all kinds of devices, phones….

Another D we could call that would be “Distractions”.

Yes distractions for sure! It’s not easy for them and they have to really assess their goals and how they get there if they want to be a footballer.

Favourite teammate of yours?

Malek Awab! He’s been with me many years. I’ve played with him, he’s a very good friend and a funny guy. Everybody loves Malek.

Any interesting stories about your buddy?

Malek and I travelled a lot together. Not just with the Singapore team but when we played in KL as well. We were housemates in KL too. His favourite quote was “Yes, no, right, thank you. Cut the cake and eat the kueh.”

Malek Awab and Fandi Ahmad
Best buddies with Malek Awab. Photo by Nostalgic About Singapore.

What does that mean?

Haha it may sound strange but he means to say that you should always do your best in everything you do. He was one of the fittest players in the team. He was always driving the players on, he’s fully motivated. While he was in the army, he wanted to be selected for the army team. The officer told him that he was too small. That was the moment where he had a point to prove. He pushed himself to the limit and eventually became a national team player. Malek can run box to box and deliver great crosses consistently. But above all, we all loved him.

Who are your coaching inspirations?

Arsene Wenger

What motivates you to be a coach now?

I think it is important to share and impart my knowledge and skills to the younger generation of players.

If I am a parent who has a child with potential to be a good sportsman, what should I do to make sure he/she succeeds like your children?

Encourage and support them in everything they do. Motivating them to train and compete in different environments is important, it challenges them to play with different types of players at various levels to improve their skills. Exposure is key for an athlete.

What was one of the first football boots you bought?

I don’t know whether anyone remembers this but it was the Adidas Chile. If you wore those, perhaps you weren’t the most well to do player around. My dad had to owe the shop (“hutang” as the Malays would call it) some money to get the boots and paid them monthly. No one had those at that time. I upgraded to the “Adidas La Plata” as I learnt more about boots growing up.

Any difference in the boots now and then?

I liked those boots because they were leather but the generation now prefers the light, soft materials but for us, the harder and tougher the boots, the longer it took for the boots to be worn out! We didn’t have the money to buy boots every month. I think the current generation are quite lucky as there are a lot of technology like Boost to make the shoes more comfortable. Sometimes I’m so confused on which one to wear! But I still prefer my leather.

Many thanks to Adidas Singapore for the opportunity to speak with national legend, Fandi Ahmad. Read the interviews with Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi and also with Ami Chopra, owner of Weston Corp.

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