Dinner with... Madhu Mohana

The LionsXII were given Monday off after their league win over Sarawak the previous weekend, and FourFourTwo's Weixiang Lim caught up with defender Madhu Mohana over dinner...

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Madhu is relaxed and smiling as we start the interview at the Novena Square Branch of Fish & Co.  

“It really means a lot to me (the day off). We haven’t had a day off in a long while,” he tells FFT. “With all the travelling to Malaysia and back, a lot of our weekends are ‘burnt’, so I really enjoyed myself today, just lazing around at home.”

Fish & Co is Madhu’s favorite restaurant which he visits at least twice a month. For starters, Madhu orders some Caesar’s salad…

You've been having an excellent season this year. What’s the reason for your good form?

There are a few reasons. Firstly, I have been getting more playing time. Playing regularly has helped me to take my game to a higher level. With every game I play, I get stronger, better. I believe it’s the same with most players. When you are playing regularly, you become more confident.  The more confidence you have, the better you will play.

Secondly, I completed my National Service at the end of last year so I have been able to concentrate fully on football this year and it has really helped. Juggling football and National Service was quite a tough challenge for me, as you often have to miss trainings and sometimes even matches, and your attention can never be fully focused.  

I was able to have a full pre-season this year – we travelled to the Maldives for a series of warm-up matches, and they have helped me to be better prepared for the start of the season.

Do you think National Service has hampered your development as a footballer in any way?

If we are discussing this in purely football terms, I would have to say that having to serve NS puts Singaporean footballers at a great disadvantage.  When players go in, usually at 18-24 years old, it’s a crucial period in our development, but we can no longer concentrate fully on football. We have military training and military duties to worry about.

It depends a lot on the unit you are posted to. For me I was lucky, because my OC and CSM released me to attend trainings with the LionsXII but not all players are as lucky. When Gabriel (Quak) was still serving, he wasn’t allowed out of camp and Delwinder (Singh), it took awhile before he was able to get permission to attend trainings. When you don’t attend trainings regularly, it’s very hard for the coach to pick you to play and what has happened is that Delwinder is now stuck without a club to play for this season. I feel very sad for him.

That said, I think National Service has also taught me a lot in terms of discipline. You have to wake up early in the morning, follow a routine, understand the hierarchy. You go through BMT (Basic Military Training), away from all the usual comforts of life. It really helps us to grow up.

You played in the S.League with the Courts Young Lions and Woodlands Wellington before moving on to the MSL with the Lions XII. Is there a big difference in the two leagues?

My first S.League club was actually Gombak United. I was 17, fresh out of the Singapore Sports School when I signed for the Gombak United Prime League team. It was actually not easy to get into a Prime League team then.

I don’t think I am qualified to comment about the standards of play but when I made my S.League debut at 18 for the Young Lions, we were going up against top players like Shahril Ishak and Noh Alam Shah in their prime. It was very difficult for young players to break into the first team of an S.League club. Today I see that there are more young players playing in the S.League.

As for the MSL, during the first two years, I did not find it to be a big step up from the S.League but it has really become more difficult in the last two seasons. The Malaysian League is definitely getting better, in terms of aggression and the pace. A lot of the teams have become much stronger with the signing of very good foreign players.

We also play in front of bigger crowds in the MSL. As players, we like to play in front of a big crowd. We become more hyped up when the stadium is full and the atmosphere is more hyped up.  We are really grateful that there are always at least 3000-4000 fans coming to watch us play at Jalan Besar and when we travel up to Malaysia, you play in stadiums with 20-30,000 hostile fans. I quite enjoy it actually, playing away, it makes me more fired up.

That’s something you cannot get in the S.League. I still go for some of the S.League matches occasionally and it is quite disappointing to see that there are so few people supporting our local league.

Safuwan Baharudin has now returned to the LionsXII. Are you worried about losing your place in the team to him or is it great to have more competition?

Nope. I am not worried. It’s good that he’s back, because honestly we need him in the team. Competition is always good for players. We will fight for the positions and it will help us to improve. Even if I have to go to the bench to make way for him, as long as the team wins, I will be happy. I won’t give up my place without a fight but as long as the team gets stronger and wins, it’s not a big problem for me if I have to be on the bench.

Who is your favorite player?

I don’t really have a favorite player because honestly I don’t really follow football outside of the MSL. I don’t follow the transfer news much and I am not the sort who will stay up to watch a live match. Most of the football I watch is video clips on the internet, through Facebook . But if you were to ask me to name someone that I model my game on, it would be John Terry.

Who is the toughest player you have played against?

It’s a tie between Marlon James from ATM last year, and Dickson Nwakaeme of Pahang. They are just so strong and fast and so dangerous.

Who do you bunk with when the LionsXII travel up to Malaysia?

I share a room with Raihan Rahman. We have known each other for 7-8 years now and we are quite close to each other on and off the pitch. I don’t really know how to say it, but we just ‘click’.

You have played for both Fandi and Sundram. What’s the difference between the two coaches?

For me, both Fandi and Sundram are equally good coaches. I have learnt a lot and progressed tremendously playing under them. Fandi has gotten some criticism because the results were much better during Sundram’s time, but you need to understand that we have lost a lot of good players like Shahril Ishak, Baihakki and Haris Harun since then, and the Malaysian clubs have also gotten much stronger with better foreign signings so it’s a much tougher league we are playing in today.

Any final words for the fans?

Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank them for always coming down to cheer for us at Jalan Besar and even travelling up to Malaysia to cheer us on. It means a lot to us players when we see the stands full of people. We apologize if the results have not been ideal but we are trying our very best. Last but not least, I would also like to thank my sponsors Puma and Fitline for believing in me.

- Words and Photos Weixiang Lim -