Once upon a time in South America: Mahathir Azeman, the Singaporean who bettered himself in Brazil
The conversation stretches just past the 45-minute mark and for what seems like the first time during the entire call, Mahathir Azeman pauses. When he does speak, his tone is a stark contrast to the one when describing his stint in Brazil.
The topic has shifted to injuries and Mahathir has been dreadfully unlucky with them.
The 21-year-old suffered a complete tear on his right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2015
The 21-year-old suffered a complete tear to his right knee’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while training with S.League side Balestier Khalsa in 2015, an injury that meant he was ruled out of the year's SEA Games, played on home soil.
Fast forward two years, and while preparing for this year’s edition of the Games, Mahathir suffered the same injury but this time on his left knee while playing for Home United in the AFC Cup - this would rule him out for the rest of the year.
Then, after a successful operation and while embarking on his recovery through physiotherapy work in October this year, Mahathir felt discomfort on his left knee again.
A check with the doctor and the resulting MRI scans showed that the 21-year-old had inexplicably torn his ACL again which will mean that the midfielder will be out of action for the next 10 months at least.
But, if his stint in Brazil has taught him anything - it is that giving up is not an option.
“Definitely, it is not easy at all mentally when such a thing happens but I can tell you that I won’t ever give up on football,” said Mahathir firmly, after a brief lull of silence.
Every time I might think of potentially giving up, all I have to do is just think about how my dad used to always ferry me to training and back when I was younger or the things I experienced in Brazil
“I saw things in Brazil that made me stronger mentally and I feel that back at home, we are quite privileged and I should do everything that I can to make sure I'll back to playing football soon and making my parents proud.
“Every time I might think of potentially giving up, all I have to do is just think about how my dad used to always ferry me to training and back when I was younger or the things I experienced in Brazil. For my parents at least, I won’t ever give up.”
Mahathir’s dream to be a professional footballer first picked up steam when he impressed in the 2011 Lion City Cup while playing for the Singapore Under-15 side. His secondary school coach and former S.League footballer, Fabio Da Silva then arranged a stint for his protégé to embark on a 6-month stint with the U-17 team of Boavista Sport Club.
Originally meant to be a training stint, Mahathir would grab the opportunity with both hands, impressing enough to be handed a one-year contract to play with the side’s first-team reserves as well as don the coveted No.10 shirt.
According to the youngster, Balestier Khalsa chairman S.Thavaneson sponsored half of his trip when he returned to Brazil after the initial six month stint.
He said: “Coach Fabio and my parents have believed in me from the start and I really owe it to them, so like I said, I won’t ever give up on my dream. Even for Mr Thava, he believed in me even when he didn’t know who I exactly was. That means a lot to me.”
Even at the local club, I could see the difference in professionalism between a local club there and a national set up here
On the pitch, Mahathir was able to witness first-hand the technical superiority that Brazilians are known for.
“Even at the local club, I could see the difference in professionalism between a local club there and a national set up here," said the youngster. “Training wise, it was tough at first and I had to hit the gym and build up but it made me stronger.
“There, everybody is comfortable on the ball from the centre back right down to the striker. They are not afraid to hold on to the ball and show their skills.
“At times, I would play on the hardcourts near the place I was staying at, and the biggest kid at the court would have unbelievable technical ability. That’s Brazilians for you. I learned so much there.”