A sailor's life is not for me — New LionsXII star Wahyudi eyes remarkable comeback

Three years ago, Wahyudi Wahid thought he'd given up the sport for good. But as Kenneth Tan finds out, a combination of hard work and a little luck can go a long way in football...

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If someone had told Wahyudi Wahid in 2012 that he would be playing for the LionsXII in three years’ time, he might had laughed that person off the street. It's funny how things turn out sometimes – the 25-year-old is getting ready to don the red jersey for the upcoming Malaysian Super League season.

It has been an incredible rise for a footballer who left the sport as recently as 2012, his dreams of a professional playing career in tatters. He took up a job as a sailor but only lasted six months.

Football came calling once again – as Wahyudi made his professional debut with Geylang International before having a standout year with Hougang United last year. His impressive displays have not gone unnoticed as he was snapped up by the LionsXII for their upcoming campaign despite having another year to go on his Hougang contract.

It might sound like yet another 'dream come true' story, but as Wahyudi tells it, he might not even have laced on football boots if his father had his way all those years ago...

Tossed boots and second chances

Young Wahyudi made his first breakthrough at the age of 15 when he impressed at Tanjong Pagar United Centre of Excellence (COE) trials – not bad for a lad who only started kicking a football at the age of nine. However, he ended up only playing half a season for the junior Jaguars. Less-than-desirable results in school incurred the wrath of his father, who threw away his boots and demanded that he pull out of the team to focus on his studies.

Wahyudi in Geylang colours. Photo: Supplied

The then-Kent Ridge Secondary School student was not to stay away for long though. With the Tanjong Pagar COE team set to participate in a zonal tournament near the end of the year, his coach at both school and club level, Kames Bidin, successfully persuaded his father to allow him back into the team.

That eventually turned out to be a key milestone in his life as he impressed then-National Football Academy (NFA) coach Mike Wong who was watching the tournament keenly.

“I really have to thank coach Kames for talking to my dad and letting him know that there were NFA coaches who would be looking out for players for trials at the tournament,” Wahyudi says. “I played a few games and from there, coach Mike called me to go for the NFA trials.”

The budding years

Making it through the trials, a fresh-faced Wahyudi embarked on what should have been the beginning of his road to stardom. However, his time at the NFA saw him feature for the Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 teams as a bit-part player.

“When I was there, there were seven strikers fighting for positions – can you imagine that?” he recalls. “I had to fight with Fadhil Noh (current Balestier Khalsa forward) and six others for a starting place and it was difficult. I was often on the bench although I did play and score crucial goals at the 2005 and 2006 Lion City Cup.”

While Fadhil eventually progressed to play for the Young Lions, Wahyudi and a few others dropped out of the national setup. The youngster went on to play for Geylang United's (now Geylang International) Prime League (PL) team under D. Tokijan in 2008 before enlistment into the Singapore Police Force the following year.

During his two years serving the nation, he linked up with the Home United PL team, where he featured alongside the likes of Firdaus Idros, Shahdan Sulaiman and Sufian Anuar, and clinched back-to-back titles in the process. Thereafter, he returned to Geylang PL in 2011 where he played in the championship-winning team under Kanan Vedhamuthu – making him the first ever player to win three PL titles in a row.

Quitting the sport

A call up to the Eagles senior team, which was coached by Wong at this point of time, seemed imminent. But for some reason or another, it never materialised, leaving Wahyudi disillusioned and considering his future in the game.

Bunkering's not for everyone, and LionsXII can be thankful for that! Photo: Supplied

This was the point where the young player could have walked away from the sport he loved forever, as Wahyudi made the decision to hang up his boots and embark on a new career. Football was never far from his mind though, as he continued turning out for amateur outfit Borussia Zamrud in the National Football League (NFL) even as he took on his new job. This was to prove vital, as he soon found his enthusiam for his new role waning.

“My job is bunkering, which requires me to transfer oils to bigger ships,” he tells FFT. “It was my first full-time job thus I was excited to try it out. But after six months, I cannot ‘tahan’ already. I was actually not interested in the job at all.”