Football: Bennett's as hungry as ever

He has played 128 internationals for his country and is one of the world's most capped footballers.

For someone who was equally adept at wielding a tennis racket or running middle-distance races as a kid, it was football in the end that brought Daniel Bennett the most joy and glory.

The tough-tackling defender is one of the most successful footballers in the country, after being part of three Singapore teams to have won the ASEAN title and starred for the Warriors (or SAFFC) in five S.League triumphs and three Singapore Cup wins.

The 38-year-old is preparing to kick off his 17th season in the S.League next month with his fifth S.League club in one of Singapore football's more remarkable careers.

The Lions last lifted the ASEAN title in 2012, although that adventure left Bennett drained and deflated.

Speaking to The New Paper recently, he said: "After winning the final 3-2 on aggregate in Thailand, I was celebrating only because I wanted the nice pictures.

"Deep inside, I was drained and I just wanted to go home.

"Off the pitch, my father-in-law had passed away so my wife flew back to China and it was also hard for me to be away from my son Diego and my daughter Jenna.

"And you guys (the media) were killing me even though I thought I had a good tournament.

"Well, we ended up winning the cup and, while I always loved playing for the national team, by the end of it, I was drained."

NEW CLUB

Fast forward to the hot and humid morning last Saturday, when most would prefer a lie-in to a 45-minute drive across the Causeway that was followed by a strenuous 90-minute workout at the Bedok Stadium.

But there's a glint in Bennett's eyes once more.

After ending a 12-year association with Warriors FC (across three stints), he has signed with Geylang International.

"Of course it was hard to leave after so long, my heart was with the Warriors," said Bennett, who is still the only Singaporean to have played professionally in England when he turned out in the Second and Third Division for Wrexham from 2001 to 2003.

"But when things don't go well, people look to change. It has been a blessing in disguise to move. I had other offers, but once I spoke to Geylang, that was it.

"I'm impressed with the people who have come in. They have a fantastic plan to use Geylang's football brand to do what football people are supposed to do, such as team selection and the running of the club.

"They have got old boys back in the backroom like Aide Iskandar (technical director), Hasrin Jailani (head coach) and Noor Ali (assistant coach).

"Geylang have a good squad in the sense that I have no idea who are going to start, which is a difference from some of the teams I have played with before.

"Obviously I want to play, but having competition within the team is the best thing for any club.

"I look at the squad and Amy Recha, for example, is quick as hell. If he and the others can put their heads down and work hard, they will become successful footballers."

Bennett is hopeful that some of the buzz generated ahead of the upcoming season can translate into a genuine upturn in fortunes of the S.League.

GENERATE INTEREST

The 2001 S.League Player of the Year said: "We need to build on the positivity generated ahead of this season. More can be done in the traditional media, social media, and also from the clubs' marketing departments to promote the S.League.

"You can see from Malaysia how Johor Darul Ta'zim are pushing the other clubs on and, hopefully, Tampines, from what they seem to be doing, can influence other clubs to follow suit and bring some sponsors on board."

Bennett cherishes each of the three ASEAN titles. Scoring in the 2004 final will always be special, along with the unexpected 2014 S.League triumph.

He has not been called up to the national team since 2012, but he believes he can taste more success at club level, because he has taken care of himself fitness wise.

"It's a short playing career and a long post career, so I'm going to play as long as I can," said the licensed real estate agent, who relocated to Johor in 2013.

"There has to be a mixture between veterans and youth because the youngsters need guidance. And I enjoy playing with them and being able to help them because they listen.

"When the time to stop playing eventually comes, I would like to be involved with Singapore football in some way.

"I would like to learn how clubs are run and to help out with outreach programmes, and I'm glad Geylang are a club who care and look at such post-football aspects."

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 14, 2016.
Get The New Paper for more stories.