Indra: Singaporean youngsters should try playing overseas
Indra Sahdan Daud holds a weary air of someone who has seen and done it all, but he brightens up as FourFourTwo approaches.
The boyish grin on his face is all too familiar, as a minder materialises from thin air and sidles up to our table.
"I'm really very excited for the new season, it's a new bunch of players so hopefully we can do well this year," he offers by way of a start.
It might seem a little cliched coming from a veteran forward who's played more than 200 S.League games for Home United, but that's before you remember it was only last September that he broke his leg while on international duty against Hong Kong.
Here at the Parkroyal Hotel on Thursday, the 34-year-old looks none the worse for the wear having just been presented to the media as part of the Protectors' squad for the 2014 Great Eastern Yeo's S-League.
It's been quite a career so far for a player labelled among the best in Southeast Asia in his heyday. A century of caps for Singapore and a propensity for finding the net in big games made him a household name, but it was a bit surprising that he never got to play outside the country. There were promising trials at Real Salt Lake in America and Melbourne Victory in Australia among others, but they all ended similarly - in disappointment.
Were there any regrets?
"At the end of the day, a bit of luck plays a part in football," Indra explains. "If you're lucky enough, someone might see your qualities and sign you. But sometimes even if you're good enough, there might not be anyone there to see it and you won't get signed. I did my best with all my overseas opportunities, I don't have any regrets. It's just maybe... a bit of luck wasn't there."
It is a case of what could have been, especially since no Singaporean footballer has played outside Asia since the pair of Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy. Indra could have been a third, but it was not to be. That hasn't stopped him from encouraging other locals to try their luck though.
"Singaporean players should go overseas and try to play abroad. Don't be too comfortable playing in Singapore. They should venture out, especially when they're young, and see how far they can go.
"If you're young and you've got no real responsibilities, why not just go for it? Once you settle down, then you'll start to have lots of obstacles to overcome. I've always said if you're still young and single, just go."
Home United kick off the season against rivals Tampines Rovers on Friday night, as the reigning league champions take on the cup winners. It's a chance to set an early marker and earn some early silverware in the form of the Charity Shield.
"For this bunch of boys, it's all about teamwork," Indra says. "Fitness wise, the boys are really doing very well and the coach has been working us hard."
Home United came close last year but ultimately paid for a slow start to the season as Tampines pipped them to the post. The Protectors' long unbeaten run in the second half of the season showed their potential but it was too little too late as they fell agonisingly close.
"I aim to play for another two years," Indra continues in that soft-spoken style of his. "Hopefully this year we'll be able to win the S.League title and retain the cup, then we'll see how it goes. I don't have any more personal goal tallies, I just want the team to win. Like [former national coach] Raddy Avramovic always told me, 'When a team wins, everybody looks good.' To me it's important that the team wins."