Selangor’s young prodigy shares with FFT about dealing with pressure and expectations, his Bukit Jalil Sports School days, and what really happened in Portugal..
“Is he arriving anytime soon?” asks our photographer. We look at our watch, which reads four o’clock. We have been waiting for an hour for Nazmi Faiz Mansor at Selangor’s training ground, the very same place where we interviewed Farizal Marlias for our May 2014 issue. The weather is not looking too good, with dark clouds slowly forming in the sky, so we can understand our shutterbug’s concern.
We had been planning to chat with Nazmi for a long time simply because there are so many things that we want to talk about with this young prodigy. Since breaking into the national scene as a 17-year-old in the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Indonesia, Nazmi has been hailed by many as Malaysia’s most naturally gifted player in years. His short stint at Portuguese side S.C. Beira-Mar in 2012 was also the talk of the town – more on that later. Even his previously famous bowl-cut hairstyle, which earned him the ‘Malaysian Justin Bieber’ moniker, might deserve a feature write-up in a fashion magazine.
However, the timing was always never right with Nazmi – he just came back from Portugal, he needs to focus, he is playing in the Merdeka Tournament, he is going Myanmar, etc. And today it seems that we will be adding another excuse to the long list.
As we stare at the road, hoping for our young star to show up soon, a red car suddenly zooms from the corner of our eyes to the front gate of the training ground Actually, it is going too fast that it speeds past the entrance and has to reverse slightly to enter the parking area. Once the car is parked, we can see a figure slowly coming out of the car. No, it is not Nazmi, if you’re wondering. It turns out to be the unmistakable Paulo Rangel. But before we begin to contemplate packing our bags, the Super League top scorer quickly shouts in his thick Brazilian accent, “He’s coming! He’s coming!” while waving his hands at us. We look up, and there he is – the new Selangor signing, who emerges from the driver’s seat. As Nazmi waves at us, we could cry tears of joy.
“Sorry, bang, sorry!” comes his soft voice, as he runs towards us. Without stopping to gasp for air, he apologises again. “I’m really sorry. I was doing a photo shoot at Sri Pentas for the Sultan of Selangor’s Cup just now and was already coming as fast as I can.” No worries, Nazmi, no worries. After all, we had already waited for more than a year to do this interview. What’s another hour?
Nazmi Faiz Mansor was born on August 16, 1994. The fourth in five siblings, he admits that he is not as academically inclined as his brothers and sister. “I am the only one in my family who does not enjoy studying,” he laughs while casually fixing his hair. Although he was not good in study, he made it up with his remarkable talent in football, which was already evident from a young age. In fact, he caught the attention of one Aminuddin Hussein when he was just 13 years old.
The then youth director of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) first spotted Nazmi back in 2007. “The FAM were doing a trial at a field nearby Yayasan Selangor in Kelana Jaya to select kids to develop them for the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup,” he reminisced during an interview in 2012.
“Nazmi was part of the trial that day and I knew instantly that he was something extraordinary,” the current coach of ATM President’s Cup squad continued. “Even though his physique was not big for his age, he had the flair; the way he received the ball, passed the ball and moved with or without the ball were really special. I knew that I had to pick him so that I can see more of him and his potential.” Nazmi passed the first trial with ease. Then, following further rounds of trial, he impressed enough to be selected to join the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), transferring from SMK Seksyen 11 at the age of 14.
It was only right for this rough diamond to be polished at one of the best sports schools around. But if you think that the BJSS coaches nurtured Nazmi with tender, love and care, think again. To help him to fulfil his potential, he was given a different treatment from the rest of his peers by the coaches, something that Nazmi admits during our interview that “it was tough.”
Aminuddin, who had become the coach the Malaysia U-17 national football team at that time, acknowledged that Nazmi was given extra pressure compared to his schoolmates. He said: “I believe he has all the ability to be better than Safiq Rahim one day. However, talent itself is not enough and it needs to be developed with proper methods. In Malaysia, talented young players suffer because they are normally being treated better or allowed to do whatever they like. But for Nazmi, it was the opposite. We gave him a tough time and provoked him all the time. Even when he made a small mistake, we immediately punished him. We also never said he was a good player in front of him.”
It was essentially tough love, which Aminuddin felt it was necessary to develop and toughen Nazmi into the ultimate player, especially due to his inability to control his emotions on the pitch. “Although he was good, he was also a hot-tempered player. Whenever an opposition player provoked or tackled him, he would lose control and retaliate.”
As a case in point, Nazmi was once sent off for punching Qatari captain Abdelkarim Hassan Fadlalla in an international friendly match after his team-mate Azrif Nasrulhaq was tackled strongly by the latter. Although the incident put a question mark on his level of professionalism and maturity, he did apologise immediately after the match.
Evidently, his passion for football more often or not lands him in hot water, something that FAM coach Richard Scully could testify on as he recalled a funny incident involving the youngling during one training session. “As per FIFA’s ruling, all kids have to wear shin pads for training, which is important because we do not want them to get injured. They are national assets after all.”
“On one rainy day, Nazmi forgot to bring his. So, he quickly grabbed a cardboard, shoved it into his socks and joined the session!
“We did not notice it at first, but because it was raining, the cardboard was eventually soaked and came off from his socks. We immediately told him off and fined him RM50 for the offence.”
When reminded of the incident, Nazmi chuckles loudly. “Ha ha! Yeah, yeah, I remember that. I did not want to miss the training session and I thought I could get through it unnoticed, but it came off towards the end and I was caught by the coaches.”
Being just a teenager, Nazmi could not afford to pay the fine on the spot, so his father, who was watching him from the gate on that day, had to pay on his behalf. We doubt Nazmi would have a problem repaying that amount a hundredfold today, but for Mansor Jr., he owes his father more than that.
“My father is very supportive of me and has always played a huge role in my career,” he beams. “He is a big football fan and, in fact, was pretty good at it too! He unfortunately did not get the chance he deserved, but thankfully I got to inherit his dream.”
With support from his father and family, Nazmi went on to play for the Harimau Muda B before joining the ‘A’ team, where things got more complicated for him.
The Portugal voyage
When he was playing for Harimau Muda A, he went for a one-week trial at Beira Mar in May 2012, which went well and convinced the club to sign him up a few weeks later.
That move instantly made the whole of Malaysia proud as he became the first Malaysian to sign for a Portuguese team. However, six months later, he stunned the nation by returning to Malaysia and appearing in a PKNS press conference, which was held to present him as their latest signing. Many people were disappointed by his sudden move including FAM General-Secretary Azzuddin Ahmad and Harimau Muda A coach Ong Kim Swee. It did not help too when Nazmi had never personally addressed the reason he came back. Until now, that is, as he utters the eight magic words to us, “Not a lot of people know about this.”
As Nazmi repositions himself in his seat, he takes us back to a few weeks before his Portugal adventure began, when he was introduced to Marco Guimaraes, the man responsible for his big move to Portugal. “Everyone thought it would be good for my career to have an agent, but looking back, it was really a bad decision. Marco helped me arrange the trial with Beira Mar and the transfer afterward, but other than that, he did not help me at all,” he discloses.
Despite emphasising that he was not forced by anyone to go to Portugal, he says that he was unhappy with the whole arrangement after he passed the trial. “I just came back a day after playing in the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship qualification in Myanmar and, without being informed beforehand, I suddenly had to pack for Portugal the following day. I was not mentally prepared to go at all. To make things worse, I went to Portugal alone and needed to look for my own accommodation and do a lot of things all by myself.”
The Beira Mar move, however, still represented a great opportunity for him to further his career and gain knowledge, so Nazmi tried to make the best out of the situation and enjoy himself over there. “It was alright during my first few weeks at the club,” he says. “I settled quite easily and made a lot of friends, which I think was easy because I had been learning to speak in basic Portuguese.”
Hearing that last bit, we spontaneously challenge him on his proficiency in the language, which he instantly responds, “Tudo bem?” Nada mal, Nazmi.
“Most of my team-mates did not know how to speak English,” he continues, “so I had to learn their mother tongue, while those who do speak English would help me to translate and interpret. They were all great friends. Those guys even celebrated my birthday by throwing cakes at me after a training session! It was such a happy moment back then.”
“However,” he immediately frowns, “things went downhill from there.” According to him, the club were going through some financial difficulties at that time and struggling to pay salaries to the players. Some were not being paid at all – Nazmi was one of them.
“They stopped paying my salary after the first three months and I was unable to pay for my rent for weeks. I was eventually kicked out of my hostel with no place to live,” he reveals. Thankfully for him, he had wonderful team-mates especially one Abel Camara, who offered him a roof over his head right after he was kicked out. As the saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.
“Abel is a good friend,” he glowingly praises his former team-mate. “He helped me a lot throughout my time in Portugal, which I will forever be grateful for.”
Still speaking on the Guinea-Bissau striker, Nazmi mentions that he still keeps in touch with him even after his homecoming. In fact, he has been trying to convince him to come and play in Malaysia. “Abel has expressed his interest to play here someday, so hopefully we will have the chance to be in the same field again!” he exclaims.
There is only so much a friend can help, though. Money continued to be the biggest obstacle for Nazmi as he struggled to live in Portugal. “Despite not getting paid at all, I still tried to be professional, going for training every day and doing my best for the team. But in the end, enough was enough.”
After three months without pay, Nazmi terminated his contract with Beira Mar and signed for Abdul Rahman Ibrahim’s side. “In hindsight, I most probably should’ve stayed in Portugal for the sake of my career, but I could not survive without any money. So, my return was indeed motivated by money, if we put it that way,” says Nazmi of his PKNS move. “Most importantly, I was just happy to be back in Malaysia. I really missed my home and my family.”
Kim Swee, in particular, was reportedly very distraught of his decision to come back, but Nazmi brushes aside any concern about his relationship with the Harimau Muda coach. “I respect Coach Ong because he has looked after me since I was young,” he says. “Despite our disagreement about my career choice, we still enjoy a good, professional relationship.” Kim Swee also showed there were no hard feelings as he included Nazmi for the 2013 Merdeka Tournament, in which the Malaysia Under-23 emerged victorious.
Home sweet home
His return to Malaysia has predictably received a lot of flak, but Nazmi has not let it get on top of him. After all, he has been used to being exposed to the full limelight since making his international bow in the 2011 SEA Games, which by the way, he boarded the plane to Indonesia by chance. He was a last-minute replacement for Gary Steven Robbat, who aggravated a hamstring injury in training.
Following a disappointing 0-0 draw in the opening match of the tournament against Singapore, Kim Swee took a risk and play Nazmi against Thailand in second game. It was a gamble well paid off, as Malaysia won 2-1 with the lively midfielder dancing magnificently with the ball before going off in the second half with an injury. His outstanding performance against the Thai side even prompted Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times to declare the following day: “Not many Malaysians were familiar with Nazmi Faiz Mansor before the SEA Games, but they will be now.” The victory became the catalyst to spur the young Malaysian side to go on to win the tournament.
On his rise to stardom, Nazmi admits it was quite daunting at first. “It was really scary when people began to pay attention to me,” he says. “And it only got worse when false stories about my personal life began to surface, which really upset me back then. But I am used to it now because I have come to realise that I cannot control what people want to say or write about me. So, I try to ignore them and focus on my performances in the field instead.”
True to his attitude, he concentrated on playing well for PKNS while ignoring off-field remarks about his return to Malaysia. He did rather well in his first season with the Red Ants, recording one goal and four assists in eleven league games to help the Super League team to finish comfortably above the relegation zone. His fine form also saw him being called up to the national senior squad for the first time in November 2013. At the same age as the late Mokhtar Dahari made his international debut, 19-year-old Nazmi was handed his first start in a 3-0 defeat to Kuwait. Not exactly the best game to cap his first appearance, but it further encouraged the ever ambitious Nazmi to perform better - and seek a move away from PKNS.
As the 2014 Super League season progressed, he eventually caught the eyes of Selangor coach Mehmet Durakovic. Without involving Guimaraes – whom he had severed ties with a few weeks prior – he rejected last-minute offers from other clubs and moved to the Red Giants. Again, another one of his career decisions was scrutinised by certain quarters, but Nazmi is not too bothered about it.
“What’s important is that I am happy to be with Selangor,” he says. “It was a dream come true to play for Selangor because I have always supported them since I was a kid. My parents are big fans of them too.”
Although he has yet to start an official game for his boyhood team at the time of writing, Nazmi is willing to bide his time. “It is normal if some players do not get to play. I also do not think of myself to be too good that I automatically deserve a spot in the starting line-up.
“Coach Mehmet has welcomed me with open arms and told me what he is expecting to see from me. So, all I will do is make sure that I train well and that I am ready to play whenever the coach needs me.”
The feelings are mutual too, as Durakovic heaped praise on his new signing in a separate interview with FFT. “Nazmi is very good and technically gifted for someone his age. The way he gets the ball and passes it everywhere, he reminds me of Glenn Hoddle,” noted the Australian coach of the similarities between his budding star and the England legend.
“He’s got a wonderful future, but he must keep his head down because he still has a lot to learn. He particularly needs to work on his physical strength. But I believe he is at the right place to develop with the right boys who are all together, committed, friends on and off the pitch. At Selangor, we can provide a very good environment and fantastic atmosphere for him [to become better].”
With almost all said and done, we can afford to ask him one more question before his training begins at five o’clock. Regardless of how clichéd our final query may be, we still have to ask him: how has he mapped out his career so far?
“For the time being, I hope to play against PKNS,” he states his peculiar ambition. “I am excited about it because that will be my first time playing against a former side.” A quick look at our data sheet. Ohh, he really has never played against any of his former teams – Harimau Muda B, Harimau Muda A and Beira Mar. Another look at the sheet. Ohh, Selangor will be playing against the Red Ants on June 25, which just so happens to be the final round of the league season and could be the title decider match for Selangor, provided if they do not suffer a catastrophic collapse in the title run-in. The boy sure knows how to pick a game to star in.
“Then,” he continues, “I want to stay as long as possible at Selangor; hopefully long enough to become a legend like Amri Yahyah. It will mean a lot if I can achieve that level of stature at this club.
“Finally, if all goes well, I hope I will get another chance to play in a foreign country again,” says Nazmi, who clearly feels he has an unfinished business outside Malaysia. “And no, no agent this time!”
From the FourFourTwo Malaysia/Singapore July 2014 issue.