Star Man – Mustafic Fahrudin, Tampines Rovers

With one of the strongest sides assembled in years, Tampines Rovers captain Mustafic Fahrudin is ready to banish the painful memory of missing out on the S.League title to Brunei DPMM last season.

It has just been over a couple of months since Brunei DPMM lifted the 2015 S.League title at the expense of Tampines, but the wounds remain fresh for Mustafic – understandably so with the Stags dubbed as title favorites even before a ball was kicked.

“It’s so painful when you try so hard and win nothing,” the 34-year-old opened up to FourFourTwo. “We had a really good team and we thought we could win the league.”

“We pushed DPMM all the way to the last game and we were really close. In the end it was an unsuccessful season for us because the philosophy of Tampines is all about winning.”

It was no surprise that the changes were rung in the off-season, with “Farra” one of the only five players retained from last season.

Nine LionsXII players was signed, including the returning Shahdan Sulaiman and Christopher van Huizen, while last season’s top scorer Fazrul Nawaz has also traded the blue of Warriors FC for the yellow of Tampines.

Reunited with several players whom he had played with in the past, there was no blaming Mustafic for feeling like a young boy all over again.

“It’s very nice to be back here and see all these familiar faces, I feel like I’m back playing for the national team!” joked Mustafic.

“I’ve played with most of them for the national team, like Fazrul and Izwan (Mahbud), and also saw them since they’re young boys at Tampines, like Shahdan and Firdaus (Kasman), so it’s a really nice feeling.

“Most of them have good attitude and work really hard, so that’ll be good for us.”

Former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant has also signed for the club, with Mustafic clearly excited about this development.

“Definitely we’re so lucky to have this kind of player in our team,” he said unabashedly. “You watched him a few years ago in the English Premier League and now he’s in the same dressing room with you.

“That’s amazing. That’s not just a great addition to our team, but also the whole S.League.”

With the players we have, we definitely have to do better than last year. But competing in four competitions means we have to take one game at a time.

With such a handy squad on paper, the Stags are once again heavily tipped to win the championship. However, armed with the harrowing experience of last season, Mustafic knows better than to take things for granted.

“Before last season kicked off, everyone was saying we’ll walk through but we won nothing,” he emphasised. “It’s the same this year and we have to careful on that.

“With the players we have, we definitely have to do better than last year. But competing in four competitions means we have to take one game at a time.

“We want to do well in the AFC competitions but the main priority is the S.League. We haven’t won it for a while (since 2013) so hopefully we do it again this year.”

Despite having already won five S.League titles and three Singapore Cups, Mustafic’s appetite for success does not seem to have died down as he looks to wind down his glittering career on a high.

“My medal record isn’t too bad but I want more,” insisted the veteran, who has won 79 national team caps in the past. “It’s a special feeling when you lift up the trophy. As a professional footballer, you want to experience that feeling again and again.”

“Honestly I really don’t know when I’ll retire but I’ll leave it to my body. When you’re 34 to 35, it’s natural that your body deteriorate and I really struggle to recover these days.

“But I’m really trying to enjoy myself now. Especially with these fit young boys in the team this season, they can really push you and I hope that they can help me improve my fitness.

“For now, I’ll just keep going and see how far my body can go.” 

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Photo: S.League