Irfan: I'll get even better

Irfan: I'll get even better

He already stands an imposing 1.86 metres tall, and boasts a physique that will make teenage girls swoon.

But Irfan Fandi, the eldest son of Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad, is only focused on his football.

The 17-year-old, who along with 15-year-old brother Ikhsan has been training with top Chilean club Universidad Catolica for close to a year, was recently named as one of the 40 Best Young Talents In World Football by British newspaper The Guardian.

The rating is for those born in 1997, and Irfan is one of just five Asians on the list, and one of only two South-east Asians (the other being Vietnamese midfielder Phan Thanh Hau).

While happy at the recognition, he vowed to get even better as he plots a professional career in Europe.

Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, Irfan said: "I found out yesterday afternoon when my former Singapore Sports School teacher sent a link to me and said I was on the list.

"At first I thought she was joking but I read it for myself and saw it was real.

"I'm very grateful to be listed in the top 40... It shows all my hard work is paying off and I won't stop working hard.

"I want to thank my family and everyone who has helped through my football journey so far, most importantly CIMB for helping me with my education here in Chile (the bank recently inked a six-figure sponsorship deal with the two boys).

"I want to make everyone proud."

Irfan is progressing well in South America.

Despite only being part of Universidad's Under-18 team, he has impressed club head coach Julio Cesar Falcioni enough to earn a call-up to train with the first-team squad a number of times.

There, he gets to rub shoulders with the likes of former Liverpool and CSKA Moscow winger Mark Gonzalez and former Porto midfielder Tomas Costa.

Irfan acknowledges he still has a long way to go.


"I've improved my technical ability and also my agility," he said, adding that he has grown taller by about three centimetres over the past year.

"But, physique-wise, there's always room to improve.

"I want to get stronger and faster, and learn to get more 'hang time' so I can win more aerial challenges.

"Training here is very intense. Sometimes the guys think I'm taking it too seriously, but to me, the training ground is where I can improve."

Fandi, who was well-known for his "hang-time" during his stellar playing days, keeps a close watch over his two sons' progress at Universidad, and believes Irfan could soon break into the first team.

Said the former Singapore captain: "My friend, who's an agent there, told me the coach wants to promote Irfan to the first division team.

"He's been very impressed with Irfan's improvement over the past year, and they especially like him because he's big for a 17-year-old.

"About him being listed in the top 40, of course I'm very happy.

"I just hope he keeps it up and one day makes it as a professional footballer, and goes on to have a good career."

Aside from Irfan, a couple of other names on The Guardian's list might ring a bell with some Singaporeans.

Abdelhak Nouri, from Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, also made the cut.

The waifish playmaker starred for the Ajax Under-15 team when they stormed to the title at the 2012 Lion City Cup tournament, held at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Ruben Neves, a defensive midfielder from FC Porto who also captained his side in the same edition of the tournament, also made the list. Irfan is not the first Singaporean player to be named by The Guardian in a list such as this.

Two years ago, he picked Fareez Farhan, then a 17-year-old forward at S.League club Gombak United, as one of Asia's top 10 young talents.

But, after moving to the national developmental side Courts Young Lions midway through the year, Fareez's development seemed to plateau.

He enlisted for National Service at the end of the year and has been trying to earn a starting spot in the Young Lions team since.

This article was first published on Oct 16, 2014.
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