Fresh from a 16-day training camp in Austria with the national Under-23 team, Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi Ahmad, sons of the Singapore football legend and LionsXII head coach, received yet another boost yesterday.
The duo inked a one-year athlete sponsorship agreement with Malaysian bank CIMB in front of their family - Fandi, wife Wendy Jacobs and three other siblings Iman, Ilhan and Iryan.
The cash deal, worth six figures, starts today and is up for renewal next year.
Said Mak Lye Mun, country head of CIMB Group Singapore and chief executive of CIMB Bank Singapore: "We hope that this sponsorship will propel these two Singapore homegrown talents to excel on the local and regional stage."
Fandi, who signed the contract on behalf of his sons, noted it will allow them to pursue both football and education excellence, and help achieve their dream of playing professional football.
"I hope more youth talents can be offered such sponsorships to help build the next generation of footballers in Singapore," he said.
Fandi said the money will help pay for airfares, accommodation, school fees and daily expenses.
Irfan, 16, and Ikhsan, 15, have been training with Universidad Catolica, a top-tier Chilean club, since December last year.
They study at The International Preparatory School in Santiago.
Fandi said he had spent some $80,000 to date, excluding the boys' 10-day stint in Spain last year when they attended football camps and trials.
Said Irfan: "We feel very lucky to have sponsors at such a young age. I know not all young footballers get this opportunity, and I hope this will open more doors for other talented players."
The deal means that expectations will be high for his sons and Fandi has challenged them to rise to the occasion.
"Pressure is there in every sport and they must be able to take it.
"I'm Fandi, and they are Irfan and Ikhsan. They have to live up to their family name but they are very independent, very strong mentally, and I'm sure they'll do it in no time."
There is no rest for the brothers who returned from Austria last Wednesday. They fly back to Chile on Monday night.
While they are currently limited to friendly matches for their club as they are awaiting work-permit clearance from Fifa, both said the Chile stint had been an eye-opener.
Said Ikhsan, a midfielder: "The players are stronger physically and technically, and we had to really step up our game there."
Irfan, a 1.85m-tall striker, agreed: "I've learnt a lot just from training. The coach told me he plans to promote me to the senior team soon and I will do my best to stay there."
This article was published on Aug 1 in The Straits Times.
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