SINGAPORE - Mahathir Azeman is 17 years old and can already speak a smattering of Portuguese.
I wonder if Hariss Harun ever will.
Last Wednesday night, the Singapore Under-18 footballer was a guest of the Brazilian ambassador to Singapore, Luis Fernando de Andrade Serra, at a party to celebrate the South American nation's independence day at Shangri-La Hotel.
Mahathir returned home on Monday after a five-month stint at Boavista, a professional football club based in rio de Janeiro.
Training and playing in the Under- 17s under the watchful eyes of coaches like former Dutch star Clarence Seedorf, he impressed enough to earn a one-year contract to play for Boavista's reserves, the team below the club's senior professional side.
He will complete his O Levels next month before returning to Boavista, probably in December.
While Singapore's most talented midfielder Hariss, 23, recently rejected the chance to join top-flight Portuguese side rio Ave in a shock decision, Mahathir continues to pursue his dream of playing professional football in a worldclass arena.
The young attacking midfielder is clearly developing as a footballer. He now wears the No. 10 at Boavista.
Famously regarded as a top honour in Brazil, the jersey is only handed out to gifted footballers.
Crucially, he's also growing up.
He was confident enough to chat and giggle with a clutch of glamorous Brazilian women last Wednesday night.
The once shy teenager told us how women in Brazil greet everyone with pecks on both cheeks.
The Siglap Secondary School student cheekily said he enjoys it.
He has no problem with Brazilian food, but proudly revealed he cooked for himself during ramadan in rio.
The youngster is also an ambassador for Singapore, with Brazilians learning about the Lion City through him.
While going through the football programme at Boavista, Mahathir has also been studying.
His school has stepped up.
Siglap Secondary is proof of how a school can come together as a community to support a student.
From principal Low Joo Hong to Mahathir's various subject teachers, including Quaide Millath - teacher in charge of football at the school - they have pulled out the stops to ensure their student has every chance of success.
They paid for his airfare to and from Brazil.
They set him assignments and a study schedule before he left for Brazil.
Mahathir checked back with his teachers every week while in rio.
Now they will peruse his assignments.
He has been taken out of class, and will instead be schooled by his teachers on a one-on-one basis, to get him ready for his O Level exams.
The goal is for Mahathir to at least make it to a polytechnic.
Disciplined, smart and sensible, his teachers believe he is on course to do so. His future is bright.
I hope the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has recommended the youngster for the new Spex Scholarship under the High Performance Sports system.
If so, I hope Teo Ser Luck, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry and chairman of High-Performance Sports Selection and Performance Sub-Committee, and his team, give Mahathir the green light.
He needs even more support as he tries to fulfil a dream.
Over the last few weeks, Hariss has disappointed Singapore football.
The Singapore and LionsXII midfield star is likely to join a Malaysian Super League side, instead of taking a chance in Europe.
Teammate, gifted defender Safuwan Baharudin, 21, who scored the goal that took the breath away on Saturday, is also linked with a couple of Malaysian clubs.
After Fandi and Sundram, Singapore football is searching for the next trailblazer.
In 2011, Adam Swandi and Mahathir starred for the Singapore Under-15s in the Lion City Cup.
The following year, they were in the team that finished runners-up in the competition.
The FAS has sent Adam to French club FC Metz on a two-year stint.
Through his school and with the help of former S-League player and his coach, Brazilian Fabio da Silva, Mahathir is on his own adventure in rio.
He could fail. But armed with courage and a dream, he is willing to take a chance and mix it with the big boys.
His is a football tale that Singapore should celebrate.
And back to the hilt.
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