Fugitive meets former teammate after 17 years

He had been living with the burden for almost 17 years.

Former footballer Abbas Saad, who played for Singapore in the Malaysian League and Malaysia Cup in the 90s, was found guilty of corruption on June 10, 1995, after being approached by former teammate Michal Vana to fix matches.

Vana faced similar charges, but he jumped bail, fled the country before trial and has remained a fugitive since, living in the Czech Republic.

Australian Abbas stayed to face the music and was slapped with a $50,000 fine and a lifetime ban from football-related activities here, which was eventually rescinded in 2009.

Despite the conviction, the former Australia international, now 43, has always maintained his innocence in the entire kelong saga.

And he is hoping that an upcoming documentary on his life, Turning Point in the Game - The Abbas Saad Story, will reveal the truth to "friends and fans who trusted and believed in me".

Tracked down

Arguably the most explosive aspect of the film is an interview with Vana in a Prague hotel room, after the film-makers from Australian-based production house Touchwood Productions managed to track the Czech ex-footballer down after purportedly visiting seven countries.

The meeting took place some time last year, but Abbas could not remember the specifics.

Speaking to The New Paper from Malaysia last night, he said: "Meeting him was a healing moment for me; I had been carrying this burden with me all these years and I had a few questions that I needed to ask him.

"For me, (the meeting) wasn't about pointing fingers or digging up dirt.

"I just wanted everyone to know the truth and Michal's side of the story," added the affable man, who is now based in Kuala Lumpur as a TV football pundit for Malaysian satellite station Astro.

He declined to elaborate when asked what sort of questions he had asked Vana, but stressed that there was no tension in the air when they met.

"I did nothing wrong to him and he did not do anything wrong to me. I just wanted to find out some things that were very important to me... and I got everything I needed."

In the 3 min 51 second movie trailer posted on Thursday on video website YouTube, Vana is seen coming out of a car and shaking hands with both the film-makers and Abbas.

Two scenes later, the Czech uttered his first words to the film-makers in a hotel room, where Abbas was not present.

Abbas said: "I have absolutely no idea what was said in that room. I met him for a cup of coffee before or after that for the chat."

He added that it was the only time he spoke to his former teammate, and has not kept in contact with him since then.

Asked if he was apprehensive about recounting the match-fixing saga in the film, Abbas said: "I never shied away from it. I've always maintained that I had done nothing wrong all these years, and I did not have any sleepless nights over this whole matter."

Life story

Other than the kelong case, the film documents the Lebanon-born Australian's life story, "even my humble beginnings, my upbringing, all the good and bad things".

The film, which includes interviews with former teammates Fandi Ahmad, David Lee and Malek Awab, is expected to be released later this year, but Abbas does not know if it will be screened in Singapore.

Just two months after the Football Association of Singapore lifted his ban, the former Malaysia Cup star was here to attend an Asian Football Confederation "A" coaching course in May 2009.

In his heyday, Abbas was popular among the fans and scored a hat-trick for the Lions in Singapore's 4-0 victory over Pahang in the 1994 Malaysia Cup final.

Singapore pulled off the double that year, also winning the Malaysian League title. The Republic exited the league the following year but re-joined the Malaysian Super League (MSL) this season.

Now sporting a bald pate, Abbas can also be occasionally seen during the LionsXII's Malaysian Super League home games at the Jalan Besar Stadium, commentating on the matches for Astro.

The film-makers could not be reached for comment at press time.

This article was first published in The New Paper.