Hanafi regrets arrest

Hanafi regrets arrest
BRIGHT POTENTIAL, BUT... Hanafi Akbar began skipping training while he was with the NFA U-18 in 2013. He enlisted for NS last year.

When he is focused on his craft, Hanafi Akbar is billed as one of Singapore's brightest young footballers.

But off the pitch, the attacking midfielder still struggles to steer clear of trouble.

Arguably the best player in Singapore's 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) squad that won a bronze medal, Hanafi's woes reached a nadir when, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, he was arrested by the police.

The Straits Times understands that the player, who turns 20 next Saturday, was arrested with a friend in Geylang on suspicion of drug-related offences.

Currently out on bail, Hanafi pleaded for the public not to jump to conclusions before the investigation is over.

Speaking to The Straits Times in his Woodlands home, Hanafi, clad in a black T-shirt and black jeans, claimed: "I didn't know he (his friend) had drugs on him.

"A media report said I was arrested outside my home. That is not true, and I really regret getting my family involved in this.

"I feel that I've let my parents down."

Hanafi, who was contracted to Balestier Khalsa's Prime League team until his national service enlistment with the police force last year, declined to elaborate on the incident as investigations are ongoing.

A Football Association of Singapore (FAS) spokesman said: "FAS and Balestier Khalsa FC (BKFC) are sorry to hear about Hanafi's situation with the authorities.

"FAS and BKFC will continue to closely monitor his situation and we will offer him and his family the necessary support throughout the investigation process and beyond."

While his future is unclear, the troubled footballer insists he wants to get his playing career back on track, saying: "I've been mixing with the wrong crowd... I do not have much time because of NS, but I just want to get back to playing football as soon as I can."

At the 2010 YOG, he thrilled Singaporeans with his mazy dribbles and scored a brace in the bronze-medal match as Singapore beat Montenegro 4-1. He had also impressed Tottenham's academy as well as youth coaches from Italian champions Juventus.

But after the YOG, he started drifting away from the game - skipping training sessions with the National Football Academy Under-18 team, which resulted in S-League clubs shunning him.

Balestier "rescued" him with a two-year contract in 2013. However, he started to miss training sessions again.

Many in the football fraternity hope that the player can bounce back.

Jaslee Hatta, the Tigers' vice-captain last season, said: "You can tell the kid's got something special. He just needs to get his head in the right place."

Jita Singh, formerly the FAS' senior head of game development, hopes more support can be given to the troubled youngster.

Jita, who saw Hanafi rise through the ranks of the national youth set-up and spent hours counselling the player, said: "He was really into football during the YOG, and was exceptional. But when you are in the limelight, everyone wants to be your friend, and maybe that's when he got carried away and starting hanging out with the wrong friends.

"He is the most talented footballer of his generation. I hope those close to him will try their best to support and encourage him to get back on track.

"He can still save his career with Balestier, and hopefully this is not the end for him."

siangyee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 31, 2015.
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