Interviews

New Stag Hanafi eager to tackle "make-or-break" season

Former Youth Olympic Games (YOG) star Hanafi Akbar will don Tampines Rovers colours in the upcoming S.League campaign and the talented attacking midfielder spoke exclusively with FourFourTwo about why he can’t wait to get started with the Stags and his tough 2017 season at Balestier Khalsa...

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Eight years have elapsed since Hanafi Akbar dazzled fans as one of the stars of Singapore’s Under-16 team that finished third at the 2010 YOG.

But, having dropped out of football completely, served time in prison and then battled his way back into the scene, the 22-year-old has not quite hit the heights that some predicted he would.

What he is however, is a man all the wiser for all his experiences, and a player more determined than ever to succeed at a new club

What he has become however, is a man all the wiser for his experiences, and a player more determined than ever to thrive in what he describes to FFT as a "make-or-break" year.

It will help that Hanafi has moved to one of the biggest sides in the country – Tampines Rovers, with whom he will taste AFC Cup action in 2018.

Another aid will come in the form of the new ruling in place for the upcoming S.League campaign where three U-23 local players must start for each local side, bar the Young Lions, in every match.

Hanafi told FourFourTwo: “I heard that they (Tampines) were interested in me last season but when I knew for sure recently that they wanted me, I was quite surprised but of course, I had to take the opportunity.”

“Tampines is one of the main clubs in Singapore and I hope that I can perform well for them and repay the faith they’ve shown in me.

“I think, with the new U23 rule in place, I’ll be able to get opportunities to prove myself and right now, I feel it is like a make-or-break season.

I feel more focused now than ever and I have been working hard in training to ensure everything goes well for me next season

- Hanafi Akbar

“I feel more focused now than ever and I have been working hard in training to ensure everything goes well for me.”

The nifty playmaker returned to football last year after serving a one-year prison sentence for drug offences, signing a contract with Balestier Khalsa.

While he featured in a number of matches throughout the year, local football observers will be quick to point out Hanafi's conspicious absence from the Tigers' side towards the tail-end of 2017.

Hanafi played no part at all in Balestier's last four matches of the campaign and was not even named on the bench.

When quizzed on the reason, Hanafi explained that he skipped trainings due to what he describes as "personal problems". He also noted that he felt a lack of support from certain individuals at the club.

“All I can say is that, it’s all about trust,” Hanafi said.

“You need to feel the trust from people around you if you are to perform and right now at Tampines, I feel that trust.”

[NEXT: Dealing with malicious rumours]