By Ernest Luis
TO HAVE the name Fandi as part of your name, can be a blessing.
But for eldest son Irfan Fandi, 11, and his younger brother Ikhsan, nine, they have already been thrown into the deep end by their parents.
If they succeed in the next 10 years, they could be the first Singaporean footballers to make it overseas in a league - consistently - and stay the course, hoping to follow in the footsteps of current Asian stars like Manchester United's Park Ji Sung.
It's an extremely long road, and the destination may never be reached.
But Fandi Ahmad clearly doesn't want his first two sons to follow the same route that he, and so many other Singaporean footballers, have taken over the decades.
That is, either short yearly stints with overseas clubs in this region, or the odd trial during the cold winter period in Europe, just because it comes after the S-League season ends in Singapore.
So Fandi has placed his two sons' budding football development in the hands of R Sasikumar, 33, who scored the famous winning goal with his shoulder blade in the 1998 Tiger Cup triumph.
Now, he is the director of sports management agency, The Red Card, and sometimes appears as a guest presenter on ESPN STAR Sports.
He explained their agreement.
'I do this for free. As a Fifa match agent I organise matches, but under my agency, we manage the boys, their rights, images and so on. I will get a commission only if they make it next time and sign for a club.
'But I do it because I know Fandi and with the hope that his sons can create a new path for Singaporean footballers, something he couldn't do properly.
'And to be fair, he has opened up business opportunities for me in Indonesia.
'So when the sons travel overseas with me, there's only my wife, Piffany, as company.
'She ensures they learn to do almost everything themselves, like washing boots, washing their clothes, folding them, and so on, in the hotel.
'Their mother Wendy (Jacobs) initially wanted to travel with us for every overseas trip.
'But I advised Fandi and Wendy not to spoil the children. They both agreed to have a hands-off approach.'
Fandi himself had a stint in Holland with Groningen from 1983-1984.
But as he famously told The New Paper in 1997 during the South-east Asia Games - when he retired from international football - his biggest regret was turning down an offer from Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam in 1982, to sign for Indonesian club Niac Mitra instead.
His sons may well live their father's dreams in the near future.
Both Irfan and Ikhsan are strikers, for now. In October, Ikhsan starred in an Under-10 tournament for the junior academies of Italian giants AC Milan, scoring eight goals in seven matches for his team. He finished as the competition's second-top scorer.
In July, both boys impressed officials from Spanish Primera Liga side Valencia during the club's junior trials in Alicante.
Now, there's interest from Italy's Serie A side Palermo as well as Portuguese first division giants Sporting Lisbon.
Their next target: Head to Europe again during their three-month long school holidays starting in June, at the invitation of these two clubs.
They have to learn to live without all the comforts of their five-bedroom, two-storey home in south Jakarta, each time they go to Europe.
Uefa's (Europe's ruling football body) rules state they cannot be signed by European clubs until they are at least 18. But at 14, they can go to a club's boarding school where they study and play.
And then, there's the most difficult hurdle of trying to prove they are better than that homegrown local boy, or the other hundreds of promising boys from all over who compete for the rare few places.
If they adapt or somehow make it, they will also pave the way for their younger brothers Ilhan, six, and little Iryan, two.
Not only that, they may also pave the way for other like-minded Singaporean parents and children to follow.
Because if Singaporeans can leave the comforts of home to study and work overseas and make a mark, why not in sports?
Sasikumar: We need to start them young
GET them out as early as possible. Expose them to the rigours of European football and culture regularly.
That is what former Singapore international and now Fifa agent, R Sasikumar, is doing with Fandi Ahmad's sons, Irfan and Ikhsan.
Explained Sasi: 'The philosophy that Fandi and I are using for his sons' footballing education is simple.
'Unlike say, African boys, Singaporean boys have very little chance of clearing that mental hurdle of living and pursuing football overseas.
'Also, what chance do our boys have when players like Noh Alam Shah and Lionel Lewis go for trials once every few years in their 20s? The odds are stacked against them.
'From a very young age, we want Irfan and Ikhsan to get used to the idea of growing up in a culture where they take part in European academy camps every year.
'So they get used to that life, what's required of them, what to expect at trials, and how to impress the right people from an early age.
'This goes on every month overseas.
'Fandi's sons must be exposed to this process as young as possible, as much as possible every year, to even have a chance of beating others.'