The Young Gun – Saifullah Akbar, Tampines Rovers

Rising talent Saifullah Akbar is hoping to gain playing time at a star-studded Tampines Rovers side and impress enough to get selected for the 2017 SEA Games squad.

Saifullah is widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in Singapore football, having impressed on a month-long stint at A-League club Newcastle Jets and starred alongside Ikhsan Fandi at the Lion City Cup in 2015.

To continue his football development this year, the 17-year-old sealed a deal with Tampines to play for their Prime League squad.

Over the course of the pre-season, Saifullah has been training with the S.League squad, which includes nine former LionsXII players as well as former English Premier League winger Jermaine Pennant – an experience which he is clearly relishing.

“That’s the exact reason why I came to Tampines – to train with the first team,” he told FourFourTwo. “Last year I trained a bit with them. Coach Sundram (V Sundramoorthy) liked me, so he asked me to come every day.

“So I decided to sign here so that I can play Prime League games and also train with the S.League team. It’s a bonus to be training with so many national team players here; that makes me feel like I’m training at a very high standard, which will be beneficial for me.”

I already feel like I’ve improved after training with this team and I cannot imagine how much further I can go as the season goes along.

The ambitious Saifullah, whose father is Tampines assistant coach Akbar Nawas, knows that it will be difficult to gain playing time in a star-studded Stags squad, but is nonetheless determined to prove his worth.

“Of course the main target is to do well in the Prime League first, because it’s my first year there after playing in the COE (Centre of Excellence) leagues,” he shared. “Slowly from there, I hope to progress to play in the S.League and that will be a great opportunity.

“I’m not saying that I will get to start, but it will be good if I can get about 10 to 15 minutes at least. I’ve played in the pre-season friendlies and that helps me a lot for my confidence.

“I already feel like I’ve improved after training with this team and I cannot imagine how much further I can go as the season goes along.”

Saifullah, who also had previous training stints with Queens Park Rangers in England and FC Metz in France, is keen to develop into a more all-round player as he set sights on representing the nation at the next SEA Games.

“Because I’m not so big, I’m learning to rely more on my technical ability and speed,” he said. “I’ve to think of a way to get past my opponents. So far I’ve been doing that well and I hope to improve more in the future.

“There will be the SEA Games next year and I’m eying the chance to play in this competition.” 

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