The Forgotten Man: Shahfiq Ghani determined to win back fans’ hearts

Singapore football fans have not seen the best of Shahfiq Ghani for a long while due to a loss of form and injury problems, but he is intent on showing he still retains the abilities that led to him breaking onto the scene in 2013...

Just three years ago, Shahfiq Ghani seemingly had the world at his feet.

The talented left-footed attacker scored five goals in his debut season with the LionsXII – plus another in the Malaysia Cup – to help them lift their first and only Malaysia Super League (MSL) title.

What ensued has been three frustrating years where he suffered a loss of form and sustained two serious knee injuries

He also scored his first international goal for Singapore in a 6-1 defeat to China and was part of the under-23 side that won bronze at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

As Shahfiq describes to FourFourTwo, “that was my year in soccer”, but what ensued has been three frustrating years where he suffered a loss of form and sustained two serious knee injuries.

In 2014, Shahfiq failed to score any goals at club level and played only 77 minutes in Singapore’s ill-fated Suzuki Cup campaign – with the only bright light being a free-kick brace against Palestine in the Asian Games.

Twelve months later he was set to play a big part in the national under-23s’ quest to win the SEA Games gold after scoring against Shinzuoka Sangyo University, Laos and Timor Leste in the pre-tournament friendlies, but suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury against the East Timorese – a week before the tournament began.

Shahfiq has taken inspiration from players like Hariss Harun

The injury meant he kicked his heels on the bench for all three group games and watched on helplessly as the Young Lions crashed out of the tournament in premature fashion.

“That was a big disappointment,” recalled Shahfiq. “I scored in every friendly game, although I was playing as an attacking midfielder instead of striker.

I was feeling confident before that injury against Timor Leste. Normally it takes about two weeks to recover, but I took three-to-four months

“I was feeling confident and needed just some final touch-ups, before that injury against Timor Leste.

“Then (national team physiotherapist) kak-Fizah (Nurhafizah Sujad) told me to be patient because it’s different recovery time for different players in terms of the MCL.

“Normally it takes about two weeks to recover, but I took three-to-four months.”

Shahfiq eventually returned from injury and played out the last few games of the season for the Young Lions, before being snapped up by Geylang International on a two-year contract.

The 2016 season was supposed to be the 24-year-old’s big year, but his world came crumbling down even before he kicked a ball for the Eagles.

An unfortunate fall during pre-season training meant he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee and was ruled out for the first six months of the season.

A second serious setback in less than a year almost proved to be the breaking point of his career.

It hasn't always been easy to remain positive during his injury troubles

“When I get the medical result that my ACL is torn, I nearly broke down; it’s like everything collapsed,” recalled the former National Football Academy (NFA) graduate. “I had progressed well after recovering from the MCL, but now I’m going to miss another six-to-eight months and all the national team call-ups.

“To be honest, there was one point of time when I felt like giving up. The thing about ACL injuries, you cannot let the knee hang there; you need to try and bend it by doing things like squats. I was told that you can fully bend it after a month, but I cannot bend it after three months.

At first, I felt quite lonely because I had to do everything by myself. I’m always alone at the gym and cannot join the team for training

“It’s frustrating because the medical result shows that I’m recovering well, but I still cannot bend it. To think back, it could also have been the mental part because I was also scared to exert myself.”

It certainly does not help when the road to recovery is usually a lonesome one.

“At first, I felt quite lonely because I had to do everything by myself – from going to the gym to checking the knee,” he shared. “I’m always alone at the gym and cannot join the team for training.

“Only after the fourth month, then I can start to jog and kick a ball. It was a great feeling; even if it’s just a normal jog on the sidelines, I feel much better and closer to the team.”

Shahfiq is grateful that many stood by him at the lowest point of his career and gave him some timely advice.

Kak-Fizah and (national team kitman) Omar kept telling me how Hassan (Sunny) and Hariss (Harun) did not give up despite getting ACL injuries earlier in their careers,” he shared.

“My parents also told me that at least it’s better to get it now than later in my career, so don’t ever give up. All these may seem like simple things, but it helped to inspire me a lot along the way.