Van Huizen: From FirstXI to LionsXII

Deepanraj Ganesan charts the upward path of the fledgling winger who first appeared on our television screens in 2013, and is now making more than just ladies’ heads turn.

Christopher van Huizen is completing his transition from a reality TV series heart throb to a full-fledged professional player ruling the wings in the competitive Malaysian Super League.

A standout contestant on the second season of FirstXI, Singapore’s football reality TV series, the 22-year-old has achieved what most of his fellow contestants have failed to do - carve out a professional football career for himself.

In mid-January of the 2014 season, his fellow contestant, former Admiralty FC defender Faliq Sudir, joined the LionsXII but did not manage a single appearance. Van Huizen is out to prove that his rise to prominence is no false dawn however, after already making waves in the Prime League and then in the big step to the S.League with Tampines Rovers.

A father’s wish fulfilled

Van Huizen was an avid runner in his younger days. With the wealth of speed he possessed, athletics was naturally his first love. He showed plenty of promise as one of Singapore’s five fastest runners in the 110 metre hurdles category while growing up in St Michael’s School, now Saint Joseph’s Institution Junior, too.

But Van Huizen was to find himself racing away from defenders on a football pitch instead of other athletes on the track when his father encouraged him to pick up football at the age of eight.  

“I owe it to my dad for getting me to play football because, to be honest, I never really liked football,” he admitted.

“I was seeking the individual aspects of sports more, so I started off with athletics. Then one day, my dad told me to try playing football with my cousins. So since he told me to, I tried it and fell in love with it.”

With the motivation that his dad provided, Van Huizen tucked away his running spikes and laced up his boots up for trials, being duly selected to play for Geylang United’s (now known as Geylang International) Under-16 squad.

Prime League football beckoned with Tampines Rovers at 17. But like every teenager in Singapore, National Service threatened to derail his football journey as he was not given permission to continue playing while serving his two-year stint in the navy.

Despite being given the opportunity to play football for SAFSA, Van Huizen turned down the offer for personal reasons. It began to feel as if it was back to square one for the winger, who had harboured hopes of playing competitive football abroad, notably in Australia, where he wanted to study for a degree.

A second coming via a TV Series

After his successful appearance on FirstXI, Van Huizen was called upon by then-Tampines Rovers assistant coach Rafi Ali to play again for the Tampines Rovers Prime League squad, a chance he grabbed with both hands. A series of impressive displays convinced Rafi to promote him to the senior squad after Salim Moin was sacked midway through the season.

It was while first training with his older team-mates that Van Huizen - who models himself upon favourite footballers Gareth Bale and David Beckham - feels he really learnt about the discipline and professionalism it takes to succeed in football.

“Playing at Tampines with the senior squad was pressurising at times, yes. But there were experienced players like [Aleksander] Duric and Mustafic [Fahrudin] so they taught me a lot. Duric especially, because he taught me a lot about having confidence in myself, and I want to be able to show that part of my game in the future with the LionsXII,” he said.

Van Huizen’s fine performances with the Stags during the 2014 S.League season did not go unnoticed, as he was called up to be part of Singapore Under-21 coach Richard Bok’s squad that competed in the Newspaper Cup in Vietnam.

Now a player who seized any opportunity that came along his way, Van Huizen’s standout displays there ultimately saw him poached by Fandi Ahmad as one of LionsXII’s four new signings alongside Sahil Suhaimi, Wahyudi Wayid and Izzdin Shafiq.