S.League Old Boys: Gusta Guzarishah, the wayward wizard who found the straight path
The mood turns a little sombre towards the end of the hour-long interview as Gusta Guzarishah is posed a tough question: Would you change anything in your career if you had the chance?
Taking a sip from his hot cup of tea, Gusta pauses, before giving a brutally honest answer.
- Age: 41
- Clubs: Geylang United (1996), Home United (1998-2001), Sembawang Rangers (2003), Jurong FC (2003), SAFFC (2004)
- International caps (goals): 16 (0)
- Honours: S.League (1996, 1999), Singapore Cup (2000, 2001)
“Of course, yes. Even though I represented the national team and played two Tiger Cups (1998 and 2000), I feel like I never fulfilled my potential,” said the 41-year-old. “I didn’t reach the same level as players like Nazri Nasir or Kadir Yahaya, who were always there. I was always in and out of the team.
“If I can change something, it would definitely be my attitude and discipline. If I had that, I could have played well till my 30s like many others.”
Gusta played for almost a decade at the top level, winning two S.League titles, two Singapore Cups and representing Singapore 16 times - but there is still a sense of what could have been.
His passion from the Beautiful Game started at a young age, with the early foundations forged at the Milo Soccer School – a now-defunct youth development program which groomed many notable Singapore talents in the 80s and 90s.
Not being that academically inclined meant Gusta spent most of his youth days honing his football skills on a void deck and at a neighbourhood street soccer court. As such, by the age of 17, the formerly right-footed player trained to the extent that he could ‘pass, shoot and curl the ball better with his left foot’.
Gusta then played for Geylang International in the semi-pro Premier League for a couple of years and managed to get a call-up for the Singapore pre-Olympic team under Douglas Moore in 1995, before the inaugural S.League season began the following year.
At that time, I was a bit gila (Malay word for crazy), I like to be with my friends and players of my age group
The first season of Singapore's only professional league seemed like the perfect opportunity for the then 19-year-old to make his mark, but he lasted just half a season before leaving the Eagles.
“At that time, I was a bit gila (Malay word for crazy) lah, I liked to be with my friends and players of my age group,” he explained.
“That Geylang team had a lot of star players like Fandi (Ahmad), Zlatko Vidan and the two Iranian World Cup players (Mohammad Khakpour and Hamid Reza Estili). But I just didn’t have the bond with these senior players, so I felt lazy to go for training and (was) unmotivated.
“It was the same thing with the Singapore youth team, there were players like Fandi, Malek (Awab) and Kadir. I’m just not comfortable around this kind of seniors. I remember I was called up for this overseas tournament, but I pulled out in the last minute. When they asked me why, I just said I had some problem.”
Gusta would re-join Geylang (but never played a game) the following season in 1997, but his life off the pitch went off the rails for a while and finally caught up with him that March.
The youngster was arrested for drug offences and had to serve a one-year sentence, which halted his promising football career. Looking back now, he refuses to blame anyone for his wayward behaviour.
“I grew up in a bad neighbourhood, so I mixed around with such people from young,” Gusta revealed. “Seriously I don’t blame my friends because if you don’t want, you won’t do it.
“I got friends from the same circle who never took anything and knew how to say no if they didn't want to do it. But I was one of those who were up for anything and I paid the price.