Euro football clubs eyeing 12-year-old Singaporean boy

Euro football clubs eyeing 12-year-old Singaporean boy
Nur Muhammad Asis Ijilrali (second from right) listening intently to his coach Luka Lalic during a training session with Turf City FC, who compete in the local JSSL Super League.
PHOTO: The New Paper

His father never taught him how to kick a football.

He does not play for any national youth team.

But those who have seen him play will tell you Nur Muhammad Asis Ijilrali has bags of talent and, if groomed the right way, the 12-year-old, who can play as an attacking midfielder or upfront, has the potential to play professionally in Europe one day.

The New Paper understands that two European clubs - Holland's Feyenoord and Turkish side Galatasaray - have been so impressed with the Loyang Primary School pupil after watching videos of him that they invited him to train with their academies last month.

As Asis is underaged and not from the European Union, and there is also no pre-contract or agreement signed, both clubs declined to comment on their interest in the boy.

But Luka Lalic, Asis' coach at the Turf City Football Club (TCFC) team that compete in the local JSSL Super League, has advised the boy and his parents to bide their time.

TRIAL MATCHES

After all, Lalic, a former Serbia Under-17 international who was forced to hang up his boots at the age of 18 because of heart issues, will be taking Asis and his TCFC teammates for a series of trial matches against top European clubs.

"At his age, he might feel overawed if he is the only one going all the way to Europe for a trial," said the 28-year-old, who first spotted Asis four years ago.

"This is why it is better for him to go with his other teammates in October and March, so that he can be himself on the pitch and play his normal game.

"His talent speaks for itself. When you see him with the ball, you can see what he has is not taught... It's God-given.

"Sometimes, the things he does in training almost defy physics."

After the Primary School Leaving Examination in September, Lalic will take his TCFC team, comprising up to 18 boys, on two European stints.

In October, they will play the youth teams of Dutch clubs such as Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord, ADO Den Haag and Sparta Rotterdam.

And in March next year, the TCFC side will take on youth teams from Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and Espanyol in Spain.

While in Spain, the team will also participate in the MeCup in Minorca, a tournament that includes the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Arsenal, among others.

Lalic arranged the trips in Holland and Spain last month with the help of his father Srdjan, who is a former player, coach and football agent.

Srdjan's dealings as an agent helped him amass a list of contacts comprising academy directors, scouts and fellow agents across Europe.

CONTACTS

Among them are Murat Basaran, who counts Samuel Eto'o and Rafael van der Vaart among his clients and Milan Martinovic, who represents Real Madrid star Luka Modric and Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren.

"In European football, nobody talks to you if you don't know them," said Srdjan, 63, bluntly.

"Even then, my contacts in Europe were not convinced at first.

"They asked me, 'Singapore? Are you sure there's talent there?'."

But, having been in town for about three weeks to help his son arrange the team's European sojourn, he is convinced there is enough talent in Singapore.

Earlier this year, Srdjan tapped on his contacts to help a Singapore-based Japanese expatriate's son to join Sparta Prague, the most successful club side in the Czech Republic.

There are other eye-catching young talents in the TCFC team as well.

Winger Levi Skyum, son of a Danish father and American mother, is a goal machine.

Striker Jacob Pasterfield, son of a British father and Kiwi mother, and half-Italian, half-Spanish midfielder Andreas Canos are also ones to watch.

But tiny Asis, the only local boy in the team, who stands at just 1.39m and weighs 29kg, stands out.

Said Srdjan: "I have seen many young players in Europe over the years, and I am convinced it is a matter of when, and not if, a top European team sign Asis.

"I sent videos of him to some agents and they replied, 'Who is this boy? From Singapore? Cannot be'."

Nur Muhammad Asis Ijilrali (right) strutting his stuff during a training session wih Turf City FC. Photo: The New Paper

UNDER THE RADAR

Despite starring for TCFC in the JSSL league almost every weekend, and for Loyang Primary School as their captain, Asis has never been approached by anyone from the Football Association of Singapore to join its Junior Centre of Excellence teams.

However, TNP understands that he has been invited for trials at the Singapore Sports School.

National team winger Faris Ramli, a Loyang Primary School alumnus, was hugely impressed after watching Asis in action in last year's National Schools final.

"He's so tiny, so I didn't really expect anything from him," recalled Faris, who was invited to hand out individual awards after the match last October.

"But, when he has the ball at his feet, you could see there's something special about him.

"He was so comfortable with the ball, has a great touch and vision, too. He controlled the game."

Asis' father Junaidi Karim says he has no idea where his son got his ability from.

"In terms of whether it is hereditary, I'd say definitely not," said the 48-year-old technician with a chuckle.

"I played football only during my school days and, even then, I never taught him anything about the game.

"I'm very grateful to God for giving him this talent."

Asis is looking forward to the European trips with his TCFC teammates.

"My dream is to play professional football in Europe," he said with a toothy grin. "I hope to gain experience and improve as much as I can when we are there."

Obstacles stand in Asis' way

If Nur Muhammad Asis Ijilrali dreams of plying his trade in Europe one day, he must overcome some obstacles.

For one, there is the question of relocating.

Under Fifa rules, players below the age of 18 can sign for a foreign club only if at least one parent moves to the country in which the new club are located, for reasons not linked to football.

Serb Srdjan Lalic, a former player, coach and agent, says this is a hurdle that can be overcome, but it is easier said than done for Asis' father Junaidi Karim.

Besides 12-year-old Asis, the 48-year-old technician has two other children - both daughters, aged 18 and 21 - to look after.

Junaidi said that the prospect of having to uproot to help his son chase his football dreams is at the back of his mind, but added he did not want to put the cart before the horse.

"When Asis first started playing football, I never thought he might play in Europe one day or anything like that," said Junaidi.

UPROOT

"But, after he follows his Turf City Football Club team to Europe in October and March, if a club really want to take him in, I will have a look at what the arrangement is and maybe I will have to move there with him.

"Then I will leave my daughters with my wife here.

"It's not easy, but I know this kind of opportunity does not always come knocking."

There is also the question of National Service.

Srdjan is aware of the obstacle, but is hopeful Asis will prove over time that he is talented enough to be granted deferment, as in the cases of swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen.

But the issue of NS deferment is trickier with football, which is a team sport, than swimming.

When contacted, Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin told The New Paper: "I would not speculate at this time because the context and situation many years down the road could be very different."


This article was first published on April 20, 2016.
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