SINGAPORE - Stuck on the sidelines of the Copa Rio Under-17 tournament in Brazil two months ago, Singapore youth footballer Vishaal Thaniyath was rueing what might have been.
The 17-year-old was slated to play in the prestigious youth tournament, featuring youngsters from top Brazilian clubs such as Corinthians, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama.
It would have been a perfect end to his three-month training stint at Rio de Janeiro club Boavista.
Then on the eve of the tournament, bad luck struck: the centre-back pulled his right hamstring in training.
With that injury, his shot at impressing scouts or even earning a contract with Boavista was gone.
"I was so upset, I had no mood to do anything. I really wanted to pit myself against the other Brazilian boys and see where I stood among them," said Vishaal.
With his samba dream apparently over, he headed home dejected. On his way to the airport, the car he was in broke down.
"It was as if fate was telling me my time wasn't up yet," said Vishaal, who had pulled out of the Singapore Sports School's through-train programme, which offered direct admission to selected courses in Republic Polytechnic, for the training stint.
Sure enough, the National Football Academy U-17 player received a letter from Boavista days after he came home, informing him that they want him to return to Brazil so that they can take a second look at him.
Speaking through a translator, Boavista U-17 coach Junior Mathura said: "The club's technical committee was impressed with Vishaal's physical presence both in the air and on the ground."
"He's also not afraid to play the ball when it came to him."
An elated Vishaal said: "No one told me anything about my chances when I left. I may have performed better than I expected, but because no one said anything, it felt like it was all over."
Now, all the hard work he put in during his training stint seemed worth it.
In his first two weeks, he trained with the club's Under-20 team, chalking up 8km runs and practising on the beaches once a week. "I couldn't feel my legs after those sessions," he said.
He also got a better understanding of the game, learning how to position himself better to repel attacks. His time in Brazil also forced him to be independent. He had to learn to fold his own clothes and make his own meals, even though he stayed at club manager Joao Silva's house.
While Vishaal is looking forward to return to Brazil, it will not be in the near future.
He wants to first obtain his diploma in business administration next April, as well as play in the 2016 Asian Football Confederation U-19 Championship qualifiers, which are expected to finish in November next year.
"At least I won't have other distractions when I go pursue the dream again," said Vishaal.
This article was published on May 9 in The Straits Times.
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