Interviews

Once upon a time in South America: Mahathir Azeman, the Singaporean who bettered himself in Brazil

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It was not just the playing standards that Mahathir had to get used to, but also the language barrier.

"When I went there, the foster family that I was with couldn’t speak English at all,” he revealed. “I had to google simple phrases and I just read off my phone. After a while, I was assigned a tutor who taught me Portuguese twice a week.

It helped me to get to know my teammates better because before I learned the language, sometimes I missed out on the jokes

- Mahathir Azeman

“It helped me to get to know my teammates better because before I learned the language, sometimes I missed out on the jokes.”

One of the experiences that stayed with Mahathir was taking up an offer to stay at his Boavista coach’s house for a night, which was in a favela. Portuguese for slum, a favela is a low-income historically informal urban area in Brazil. 

“That was what really hit me when I was there,” the fleet-footed central midfielder recalled. “Their house is like a typical bed room here in Singapore and they have about seven people living in one house and the conditions are not great.

“Over there, their way out of poverty is only football. For us, we have other opportunities because of education and because of that we don’t have to prioritise sports. I learned to be grateful and always chase my dreams.”

Mahathir (second from right) with his teammates

Another thing he also had to adjust to initially, was his journey to and from training - a two-hour bus ride.

He shared: “The first few times that I would go for training, I would leave my house feeling fresh but by the time I got to training, I was already tired. But after a while I got used to it and I would just listen to music and watch the scenery go by on the way to training.

People complain about transport system here, but their people don’t even have bus terminals or trains and they don’t complain

- Mahathir Azeman

"People complain about transport system here, but their people don’t even have bus terminals or trains and they don’t complain.”

After a fruitful 18-month stint where he proved his worth against Brazilian opponents, Mahathir would return to serve his National Service (NS) with the Singapore Police Force. It was around this period that his rotten luck with injuries would begin.

Having completed his NS in May this year, Mahathir is now looking to follow up on an open invite to return to the club, a feat he earned through his attitude and performances while at Boavista. 

“My coach at Boavista has told me to get a full season here under my belt and then we can discuss a return to Brazil, said Mahathir, whose contract with Home United expired at the end of the recently concluded season. So right now, I want to focus on my recovery and see where I go from there. I definitely still have fierce ambitions to play overseas, it can be Brazil or even Thailand. I want to be a professional footballer representing my country overseas- that is my dream.”

Photos: Supplied