Unlike many of his Under-21 counterparts, Hafiz Sulaiman did not rise through the ranks at the national youth levels. However, he still managed to force his way into Singapore Under-21s and FourFourTwo got to hear how he did it...
A professional footballer’s education usually begins from a young age, and the same can be argued for Warriors FC midfielder Hafiz Sulaiman.
This has been a breakthrough season for him, after making his debut for Singapore at the youth level recently, but Hafiz’s road to getting there was any thing but straightforward.
It all began in Dazhong Primary school, where Hafiz helped his alma mater to become West Zone champions in 2007.
His performances caught the eye, and soon enough, the Primary Six student was selected for the Combined School team which included current Young Lions players Dhukilan Jeevamani, Jonathan Tan and Ammirul Emmran.
But that’s where it all changed for the then 12-year-old, as he had to take the road less travelled and nine years of hard work before he donned the national stripes, albeit at the youth level.
After he made the Combined School, Hafiz found himself out in the cold and could only watch on helplessly as the aforementioned trio go on to represent Singapore in the Youth Olympic Games two years later.
His cause was not helped by his choice of secondary school, Bukit View Secondary, which did not offer football as a Co-Curricular Activity. As a result, he was forced to sit out of organised football completely for at least a year.
“I think I chose the wrong school,” Hafiz reflected before breaking into a laugh. “I had to join NCC. It's a good school though.
I worked hard every single day, but in the end I didn’t make it. It's very disappointing to take
“But of course, I was very disappointed. I worked hard every single day, but in the end I didn’t make it. It's very disappointing to take.”
While his peers were aided by first-class support from the Football Association of Singapore, Hafiz instead had to contend with cemented street soccer courts and amateur competitions in order to continue his football education.
Things only changed for the better when he was 15, when a friend dragged the reluctant youngster along to trials for Warriors’ COE teams. It was his second attempt to join the Warriors after failing once in 2008, and thankfully for him, he succeeded in impressing this time.
“Yeah, I failed to make it into Warriors FC once. But I love football, it’s a game I started playing since I was very young. I just went for it to see how it is like to play for a professional football club but without any expectations, and from there, I got selected,” Hafiz shared with FourFourTwo.
A new shot at the big time
Hafiz’s struggles continued as he played on, with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) during a routine training session putting him out of action for more than seven months. His ‘career might have ended before it even began’, Hafiz recalled.
Even when he was finally promoted to the Prime League team at 18, he had to serve his obligatory National Service (NS), which proved to be a huge obstacle in him being able to attend trainings, let alone play in games.
It was a surprise for Hafiz thereafter, that he was offered a professional contract for the 2016 season.
His attitude when he first came here was lackadaisical. But after some hairdryer treatment from the senior players, he improved.
Prior to the offer, Hafiz did not think it was possible for him to pursue a professional football career any longer and he instead had plans to sign on as a regular with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
“Actually, I wanted to sign on with SCDF after NS, because I can’t survive with the Prime League pay and signing on as a regular will provide me with a decent pay,” Hafiz shared.
“But after I finished National Service, I got a call from the General Manager, Paul Poh, to join the S.League team and it was quite shocking.”