Mahathir joins Boavista
Siglap schoolboy gets leave of absence from school to play in Under-17 league in Rio for five months. -TNP
It was not his sweetly-struck penalty against Ajax Amsterdam in the opening match of the 2012 Canon Lion City Cup that Mahathir Azeman remembers as his sweetest moment in a Singapore shirt.
He helped the Singapore Under-16s reach the final last year, and got on the scoresheet in a 4-1 loss to the same Dutch giants, but even that pales in comparison to his team's stunning come-from-behind 4-3 win over Newcastle United in the 2011 edition of the tournament.
In Mahathir's mind, the never-say-die attitude of the team in that fightback is something he will never forget.
His ability to put team before self is the reason why those close to him believe the 17-year-old National Football Academy (NFA) midfielder has a chance to succeed when he joins the U-17 side of Brazil's Boavista next month.
Boavista ply their trade in the Campeonato Carioca, Rio de Janeiro's top professional football league, which features the likes of Fluminese, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama.
Mahathir, from Siglap Secondary School, will take a leave of absence from April 7 to Sept 15 to be able to play in the U-17 league.
He will return to sit for the remaining three subjects he has left to pass the 'O' Levels.
The school will make arrangements, via e-mail correspondence, to keep up to speed with his academic requirements, while also footing the bill for his return flight through its Opportunity Fund.
Former S-League star Fabio da Silva, Mahathir's coach at Siglap Secondary, played a key role in linking up the youngster with the Brazilian club.
"It won't be easy for him, travelling halfway around the world to play, but he's got desire and discipline, and I have faith that he will be a big professional player in the future," said da Silva, on Wednesday.
"This is not a trial, he will go straight into the squad, and this is a great opportunity for Mahathir to be the first Singaporean to play in a Brazilian youth league. We are thankful to Siglap principal Mr Low Joo Hong for the tremendous support to make this happen," added the former Jurong FC midfielder.
Now-retired footballer Eric Francis joined Flamengo for a five-month stint in 1992 when he was 18, as part of a tie-up between Clube dos 13, the Singapore Sports Council and the Football Association of Singapore, but he did not play competitively in the league.
Mahathir's parents, Azeman Salleh and Hamaliah Ismail, will support his living expenses while he is there.
In his first month, da Silva has made arrangements for him to stay with the family of a teammate, before he moves to the club dormitory.
The youngster, who shone at last year's Lion City Cup, earning praise from Ajax coach Michel Kreek for his individual display in the final, intends to make the most of his chance.
"Brazil is a football country... and I'm very excited to get such a rare opportunity. I will miss my family, my team which are my second family, and my mother's food... but I will adapt and train hard," vowed Mahathir.
He follows in the footsteps of teammate Adam Swandi, who left for France to join FC Metz for a two-year stint earlier this year.
Leaving for a competitive football stint during his 'O' Level year is a risk, but one that his parents are happy to take.
"All parents want the best for their child, and there's nothing to be afraid of... we believe in him because we can see his desire and character and we trust that he will be fine there on his own," said dad, Azeman.
Siglap vice-principal Yeo Sho Hor believes his young charge has what it takes to come good and also inspire his schoolmates.
"This is a rare opportunity and in line with our long-term view on what education is for a child is about - to be a holistic person - and we want to nurture his passion.
"We need sparks like him."
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