SEA Games: Midfield star Anumanthan insists U-23s can prove doubters wrong

SEA Games: Midfield star Anumanthan insists U-23s can prove doubters wrong
Singapore U-23, M Anumanthan, training at Jalan Besar Stadium on 20 May 2015.

It's hard to fathom how someone so tough and aggressive on the football pitch can be so gentle off it.

For most of the two-hour training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, Singapore Under-23 midfielder M Anumanthan was biting in the tackle, giving no quarter.

When the session ended, the 20-year-old greeted national coach Bernd Stange - who was observing from the sidelines - with a handshake and a shy smile.

He extended the same greeting to this reporter as well.

It was not too long ago - in 2012 - when word spread that Anu, as he's affectionately known, had what it takes to follow in the footsteps of Singapore star Hariss Harun.

With a similar tough physique, playing in the same position, and with an all-action style, that wasn't a surprise.

His supporters are hoping the upcoming South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil will be the perfect stage for Anu to announce himself to the nation, even if the Under-23s have not displayed any sort of form to suggest they can make the final on June 15 at the National Stadium.

"No matter what has been said about us and coach Aide (Iskandar) the past few months, we never gave up or lost hope," said Anu, who was a non-playing member of the 2013 SEA Games side that bagged bronze in Myanmar.

"We felt bad for him; when we mess up, he takes the blame. Some of us have gone to him and told him not to worry.

"We know we can prove people wrong. We have a good chance playing on home soil at Jalan Besar, where we're more used to it than the other teams.

"If we come together and really fight for each other, I think we can do something; we can reach the final."

For the Young Lions to achieve that target, and fight for a first football gold for Singapore at the SEA Games, Anu, who is likely to be in Aide's starting 11, will have to be at his best at the heart of the defence, where he has played the past few months.

The 20-year-old will need to play like Hariss.

The football tournament kicks off on May 29 with action in Group B, featuring Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei and Timor-Leste.

Singapore are in Group A with Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines, and kick off their campaign on June 1 against the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium.


Aide's Young Lions have come under stinging criticism over the past five months for their poor results in the S.League and in various international friendlies.

But the team returned from their week-long training stint in Japan on Sunday fresh off a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Shinzuoka Sangyo University's football team.

Though he is eligible for the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, third-year Republic Polytechnic student Anu does not want to wait another two years for gold.

Anu admits Hariss has been his idol since he was a youngster in the National Football Academy set-up.

He believes he can go one-up on the Johor Darul Ta'zim star by making it to a SEA Games final, and even winning the gold medal.

"He's my favourite (local) player, and I've always looked up to Hariss," said Anu, who was three years junior to the midfield star at St Gabriel's Secondary School.

"He doesn't know this, but whenever I train with him in the national team, I'll challenge myself against him.

"Once, I got a bit too eager, slipped, and accidentally went in on him two-footed.

"He got up, turned, and gave me the death stare.

"He thinks I'm joking when I tell him he's my favourite player. At the last SEA Games, I asked him for his jersey once the tournament was over. He said: 'For what?'

"But in the end, he gave it to me lah."

Like Hariss, the 1.75-metre tall Anu, who has six international caps to his name, can double-up as a centre back.

He is likely to be deployed there when the Under 23s take to the field at the Games, alongside either Amirul Adli or Sheikh Abdul Hadi.

After a shaky start in defence, Anu is slowly coming to terms with the role.

When the Courts Young Lions defeated Home United 1-0 in the S.League last month - the team's first win after seven games - Anu put in a man-of-the-match performance at centre back.

"At first, I hated the position. I didn't know where to move or how to position myself," he said.

"But, my coaches told me I was needed as a defender and my teammates helped me with the positioning.

"Coach Aide has given me the freedom to move up when I have the ball, and then I started watching attacking centre backs like David Luiz and Sergio Ramos.

"I can't imagine playing this position forever, but I'm more used to it now.

"If it helps us win the gold, then I'm all for it."

This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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