Saifullah Akbar: To Australia with love

At the age of just 16, Saifullah Akbar has already trained in England, France and Australia. Captain of the Singapore under-16 team for Friday night’s Lion City Cup clash with Liverpool, he sat down for a chat with FourFourTwo…

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So Saifullah tell us about your background, when did you started playing football?

I started playing when I was six with the Football Academy. It was called the Five Star Football Academy. From then on I went to play for primary schools and then developed to go to secondary sports schools and then for NFA (National Football Academy).

Do you attend the school here at Singapore Sports School?

Yes I go to school here, I’m in year four. It’s not easy because I’m away from my family most of the time, but now I don’t sleep here. I go home every day so I get to interact with my dad. My dad is like my closest friend and we always talk to each other about football and we connect very well. I live in Yishun so it's close by.

Your dad used to play football, right?

Yes but not professionally. He just played club football. But he’s coaching now himself with Tampines and he’s very much involved in football.

When I go to France and England, they train as if it’s a war. It was impressive

Have you always played in the midfield?

Yes, I started playing midfield from six years old and have stayed there all the way through. I love scoring and assisting. I love getting the ball in the attacking third.

You’ve spent quite a bit of time overseas with your football, starting in 2013 at the Asian Youth Games in China. Tell us about that.

It was my first trip competitively with my team and it was really tough. I’d never been on a competitive trip before. We did pretty well, in the first game the scoreline wasn’t that bad and we managed to score a goal (2-1 loss to Iraq), but it wasn’t easy. Two of the teams from our group went all the way to the semi-finals (gold medallists South Korea and fourth-placed Iraq), so it was a tough group.

You also spent time with FC Metz in France?

I went there when I was 14 and had a two-week trial with them, through the sport school and FAS. It was a good experience because it was my first time going overseas to see how European teams train. I had fun and learned a lot and they enjoyed having me too. I was happy and they were very nice people. Then I came back home and a year later I got selected to go to QPR because they had a clinic here. They only chose three players out of about 100 and I was one of them. I was really shocked because we had 18, 19-year-olds competing. I didn’t even know about the clinic, I just came down and did my best and managed to get a spot to go to QPR.

In England we managed to watch two games and got to see Yossi Benayoun, (Bobby) Zamora, a lot of players. It was a good trip. The standard in England is pretty much the same as France. They’re physically strong and player faster and smarter.