Dream Team 1994: The one who was as versatile as a Swiss army knife – Saswadimata Dasuki

Just over two decades ago, the Singapore FA team completed a now legendary cup and league double to sign off in style from the Malaysian leagues. Weixiang Lim talks to a gifted player who could slot in anywhere on both flanks – Saswadimata Dasuki...

What have you been up to since 1994?

After the pull-out from the Malaysia Cup, because we were all still contracted with FAS (Football Association of Singapore), they kept the team together and we played in the Premier League for one year in 1995. The year after that, the S.League started, and I signed for Tiong Bahru.

From the Malaysia Cup winning team, Steven Tan and Lim Tong Hai joined me in Tiong Bahru. S Subramani, who went on to become a national player, was in the team with us at Tiong Bahru. Robert Alberts who won the Malaysia Cup with Kedah in 1993 was our coach, so you can see it was a very competitive and high quality league. From Tiong Bahru, I moved on to play for Tampines Rovers, Gombak United, and SAFFC before retiring in 2003.

After hanging up my boots, I became a coach, and I have been mostly involved with training young players.  I started out coaching Gombak United’s Centre of Excellence (CoE) team in 2004, and then I was Tampines Rovers’ Prime League coach. From there, I went to Sengkang Marine, where I moved from coaching the CoE team to the Prime League team and then the main S.League team. After my stint with Sengkang, I joined SAFFC as coach of their CoE before moving to my present role today as a coach with the National Football Academy (NFA).

How did you start off in football?

Like most people, I started out playing football on the streets.  I grew up in the Tiong Bahru area. We lived at the General Hospital Quarters. There were a lot of good players in the neighbourhood. As a young boy, I would look at their skills with awe. Some of  them like Ahmad Paijan and his brother Tohari Paijan went on to play for the national team.  

When I was 15, I joined the youth team at Tiong Bahru Constituency Sports Club, and was promoted to play for the senior team in the first division of the National Football League (NFL) when I was 17. I think I was the youngest player in the NFL at that time.

After playing in the NFL for two seasons, I went into the army and joined the SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association) team, where I was talentspotted by the national coach then, Milous Kvacek, and invited to join the national team in 1992, together with two other young players – Steven Tan and Zakaria Awang.

A lot of your teammates have praised you for your versatility. How did you develop this ability to play in so many different positions?

When I started out playing on the streets, we played small-sided games barefoot, with slippers as makeshift goalposts.  There were no fixed positions and we could go everywhere around the playing area, so I think that helped me to be comfortable with playing in a variety of positions.

We played almost every day. During school holidays, we would play in the morning and again in the evening.

In the evenings, the older players would join us when they finished work. We called them the ‘abang-abang’ – they were 20-21 years old while I was only 13-14, and it helped me to become a stronger and faster player. I had to think quickly when I had the ball.

And they would scold you with all sort of colourful words; your father and mother, even your grandmother would be mentioned (laughs).  They were very serious about the game, even though it was only a ‘kampong game’, so I learnt to play under pressure and became mentally stronger.

I started off as a midfielder, usually on the left side of midfield in a 3-5-2 formation. That meant I had to go forward but also track back to help in defence, almost like a wing-back.  When I got into the national team, and was asked to play as a left-back, and at times as a left midfielder, it was not something totally unfamiliar to me.

NEXT PAGE Representing Singapore, a football team as family and biggest regrets