S. League: Snagged by the stags

He sat leaning against the wall of the dressing room, strangely shy wearing a smile on his face.

This was not a wet-behind-the-ears rookie but Indra Sahdan, a one-time leader of the Singapore Lions, the face of the national team, and a striker who can count, among his 200 goals, superb strikes against Manchester United and Japan.

But there was still something starry-eyed about the gaze of the 35-year-old, who officially came out of retirement yesterday and took part in his first training session with Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League giants Tampines Rovers.

"Honestly, when I walked into the Jurong West Stadium just now, I felt nervous to meet my new teammates," Indra (right) told The New Paper.

"I know I've been doing this for more than 15 years, but I had butterflies in my stomach just now.

"I guess that's how I know I still love the game."

Indra played for Home United until the end of last season before calling time on a successful professional career.

He decided to work with youngsters at Home's Mattar Road academy, while also freelancing at a friend's events company.

Now, though, he has dropped all other distractions after answering the call from Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy and accepting the offer of a one-year contract.

"I was quite excited when Sundram told me he was keen to take me on.

The biggest draw was really to win a title before I stop football," said Indra.

"With this squad, I think we have a good chance of wining all three titles on offer (the S.League, RHB Singapore Cup and League Cup), then I can retire on a high," he said, laughing.

Tampines, with five S.League titles to their name, failed to win any trophy last year, finishing third in the S.League behind winners Warriors FC, and falling at the semi-final stage of the RHB Singapore Cup.

They did not make it past the group stages of the League Cup.

The Stags' roster now boast 10 former national players, including three former Singapore skippers - Indra, Noh Alam Shah and Mustafic Fahrudin.

Former Singapore star Sundram, who was hired as coach after leaving Malaysian Premier League side Negeri Sembilan last year, is already raising excitement levels at the Jurong West Stadium.

Indra knows it will not all be plain sailing, as Tampines get ready for their opening league game when they visit Albirex Niigata at Jurong East Stadium on March 2.

In fact, before he can even take to the pitch in the yellow of the Stags, he will have to pass the mandatory fitness test - the 2.4-kilometre run.

"When I stopped playing, not having to take that test was a relief.

It's not really hard for a professional player to pass that test but, it comes with pressure, especially since I've only been playing social football since I left Home," he said.

"But now it is a good pressure. I've started running a week ago and should be in shape in about two weeks."

Sundram believes Indra will be a big part of the team.

"That striker's instinct is something you can't really train, you have to be born with it, and Indra is," said the 49-year-old coach, who famously led the LionsXII to the Malaysian Super League crown in 2013.

"We all know his quality."

"He's got experience, and he can contribute. It's going to be a long season, and top teams need a good squad, with one player just as good as the next one."

As if to emphasise that point, Indra took a pass at the top of the box and unerringly arrowed a shot into the far corner of the goal during training.

In unison, his new teammates broke out in applause.

It looks as if the veteran is set for more curtain calls, when it was supposed to be all over for him, but Indra simply said: "Whether I start or sit on the bench, I'm just happy to be here to contribute.

"Maybe I can even help the young ones along, teach them a thing or two, and start to give back to the sport that gave me so much."


This article was first published on Feb 10, 2015.
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