Football: Boost for Irfan and Ikhsan

They probably had never faced such a media scrum before, but brothers Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi Ahmad seemed well at ease, fielding questions calmly.

Dad was well-known for being shy in front of the cameras in his teenage years, but Irfan and Ikhsan took it all in stride.

More than 30 years after Fandi Ahmad signed for Dutch side Groningen to become the first Singaporean to play top-flight football for a European club, his eldest son Irfan is close to breaking into the first team of top Chile Primera Division club Universidad Catolica, while second son Ikhsan has also impressed with their Under-15s.

Yesterday, the two boys received a big boost when Malaysian bank CIMB announced a one-year, six-figure sponsorship deal with them.

The sponsorship will see CIMB take care of their football and academic needs in Chile.

When the duo come back, they will front the bank's community sports projects.

"We are grateful to CIMB for this sponsorship because it is a big help towards financing our education and football development," said 15-year-old Ikhsan, who can play as a striker, playmaker or right winger, and has scored six goals for his club side in four friendlies.

Irfan, who turns 17 on Aug 13, has already caught the eye of first-team manager Julio Cesar Falconi with his strength.

He has scored six goals in three friendlies, but for now, the coach of Catolica's Under-17 team feels it would be better for his development to continue training with them.

Said Irfan: "I still have a lot to learn and I have a good coach who has been working with me on my finishing. I also want to build on my determination and discipline.

"I want to make my own name and also carry my father's name, at the same time."

Fandi is aware of the expectations that come with being the offspring of a local football legend, but backed his sons to succeed.

The 52-year-old LionsXII coach, who has two more sons and a daughter, said: "People keep asking when will we see the next Fandi Ahmad, but I produced four Fandi Ahmads for Singapore. I believe in their ability and their mental strength. I hope that these four boys (Irfan, Ikhsan, Ilhan and Iryan) will one day represent the country.


"I know people pressure them, so I advise them to keep cool and stay humble because football is full of ups and downs. I have faith in their abilities.

"They are in good hands in Chile, at a good club and a good school (The International Preparatory School in Santiago) where they are doing well, and with this CIMB sponsorship, they will continue developing into good people and good footballers."

The deal is CIMB's first foray into cultivating talent in football, following its sponsorship of Malaysian squash star Nicol David.

At the signing ceremony, Mak Lye Mun, country head of CIMB Group Singapore and CEP of CIMB Bank Singapore, said: "We believe the nurturing of the region's talent is one of the best ways in giving back to the communities we live and operate in.

"We are very proud of what Irfan and Ikhsan have achieved at such a young age and we hope that this sponsorship will propel these two homegrown talents to excel on the local and regional stages, and to flourish in the international arena as well."

Fandi has spent around $80,000 on both boys since July last year and he said: "Three to five years ago until now, I've been looking for sponsorship for my sons. I've spent quite a lot of money on my own for them to go overseas and I'm glad that CIMB, whom we have been in touch with since 2010, has come forward.

"Hopefully this also acts as a catalyst for other companies, local or foreign, to invest in young Singapore footballers."

This article was first published on August 1, 2014.
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