Football: Saifullah's got what it takes

Football: Saifullah's got what it takes
Saifullah Akbar

Safuwan Baharudin's move to A-League side Melbourne City grabbed all the attention, and rightly so, especially after his credible performances Down Under.

But right behind the Singapore international defender went 16-year-old Saifullah Akbar, who has also impressed after a month-long stint with the Newcastle Jets.

Some believe the attacking midfielder, a product of the National Football Academy (NFA), will soon follow in Safuwan's footsteps and be part of the Lions.

Newcastle Jets assistant coach, Mark Jones, has had a close look at Saifullah over the last few weeks and he believes Saifullah will be a full Singapore international.

"He's got ability and talent and I think he's up to that challenge. He held his own, even when training with the (Jets') Under-18s, and he's got to a level where we think he could start to go to the youth team (reserve team behind the Jets' professional A-League side)," Jones told The New Paper yesterday.

"Before he can make it into the (Singapore national) team, he will obviously need to spend some time in the gym and get bigger and stronger, but that will come with time."

BELIEF AND DESIRE

More than just talent, Jones asserts that Saifullah has belief and desire, two critical ingredients, and that the Jets' door will remain open to the youngster.

"Sai is a student of the game, he watches, learns and takes instructions very well - that sometimes is the difference between good players, and very good players," said Jones, who last year worked with the NFA set-up at the Football Association of Singapore before leaving to join the Jets.

"We are obviously limited by the fact that he isn't able to stay here. But, with the link that we've got with Singapore, the door to the club, and our lines of communication will both remain open - we are always on the look out for talent."

Fifa rules stipulate that clubs cannot sign a player aged below 18 unless his parents are living and working in the country in non- football related industries.

While a contract with an overseas club appears to be off the table for his son, Saifullah's father, Akbar Nawas, is already looking for the next opportunity.

"With Fifa rules as it is, and with National Service (NS) looming, I think the best a young Singapore footballer can do is to go for attachments at overseas clubs during school breaks," said the assistant coach at S.League side, Tampines Rovers.

"If we can find a sponsor to help in terms of flights, accommodation and living expenses, we're looking to send him to Europe in May, and then to the United States in September, during the school holidays," added Akbar, who has spoken with local authorities and got the wheels in motion to volunteer Saifullah for early enlistment once he's done with his 'N' Level examinations at the end of the year.

The youngster is not getting ahead of himself.

"I've been told that I did well at the Jets, but I think I could have done better if I could've stayed there longer, where I'm out of my comfort zone," he said.

"The players there seem to have more tactical awareness and think faster, and I've had to learn to do the same, and even to use my body to protect myself."

Even with obstacles in his way, the dream still burns bright.

"I want to play at the top level of the game, higher than it is in Singapore, maybe in Australia or Europe," said Saifullah.

"Of course, that is the dream."


This article was first published on March 16, 2015.
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