SINGAPORE - You could call Lionel Tan the accidental captain.
After all, the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-17 defender did not even know he would be wearing the skipper's armband this year, until moments before their first game in March.
But the centre back grabbed the added responsibility with both hands, and has shone for Robin Chitrakar's team in the Prime League, which features the U-21 teams of S.League sides.
The youngster has done so well that he is in the running for this year's The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award, along with five other young talents.
Chitrakar, a former national defender himself, explained that Lionel was the perfect candidate to lead the team in the absence of regular captain Gareth Low.
Defensive midfielder Gareth had a serious knee injury that ruled him out for the whole year.
Said Chitrakar: "My main reason for picking Lionel was his discipline.
"He's always punctual in training and always does extra things on his own, even down to the smallest things like stretching or practising his passing.
"He has been a real leader from the back for us and he has been really consistent throughout the season.
"It's not easy for a team of 17-year-olds to play against older teams, some of whom have S.League players who put a lot of pressure on them."
But Lionel is unfazed by the weight on his shoulders.
"I felt proud at being given the armband," he said, adding he had previously captained the Singapore Sports School team.
"I wanted to take charge of the team just like Gareth did. Even before being given the captaincy, I did my best at all training sessions and matches.
"As a centre back, I have to be vocal, so I already communicate with my teammates a lot."
Chitrakar praised him for his awareness and reading of the game, adding: "He is also very comfortable playing out from the back."
Lionel explained his composure on the ball comes from being a central midfielder until only two years ago, when he was converted into a defender.
The youngster says Chitrakar, who took over the NFA U-17 team at the start of last year, has been a big influence on his game.
"I try to learn as much as I can from coach Robin," he said.
"He gives me a lot of advice on how to improve, including ways to defend, and ways to protect myself in game situations.
"He has also emphasised on getting me to be stronger and faster, so I can have an advantage over my opponents."
The winner of the Dollah Kassim Award will also bag the Singapore Pools Passport to Excellence prize, which comes with an overseas training stint at a prestigious football club, and Lionel hopes to get a chance to pit himself against the best youth players around the world.
"I'm still learning and improving, and it would be a great chance to experience what it is like to play at a higher level," he said.
Name: Lionel Tan
Date of Birth: 5 June 1997
Team: NFA U-17
Position: Centre back
Favourite team: Man United
Favourite player: Paul Scholes
DID YOU KNOW?
Lionel plays other sports like badminton and table tennis in his spare time.
The Dollah Kassim Award winner will receive the Singapore Pools' Passport to Excellence prize, which funds the cost of sending the recipient for an overseas training stint. Singapore Pools launched the incentive in 2010 to nurture young sports talent, in line with its commitment as a leading partner in the sports community.
This article was first published on December 4, 2014.
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