Ikhsan Fandi's European dream
Ikhsan Fandi recently linked up with his National Football Academy team-mates in Singapore, taking a break from his base in Chile, where he is studying and training alongside older brother Irfan.
The Lion City Cup is back following a one-year absence and commences on Friday night, with the Singapore under-15 team facing Tottenham’s academy side first-up at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Ikhsan and the under-16 squad will then take on English giants Liverpool's academy and the young attacker revealed ahead of training at the Singapore Sports School that he has lofty ambitions.
“Hopefully I get to play in Europe,” he said. “I’d be happy to play anywhere in Europe, but maybe in England or in Germany.
“I like German football.”
If Ikhsan can realise his dream, he would follow in the footsteps of his father Fandi Ahmad, who became the first Singaporean to play in Europe when he signed with Dutch side FC Groningen back in 1983.
Tournaments like the Lion City Cup, which helped launch the careers of Singaporean greats like Fandi and V Sundramoorthy, can be a great stepping stone as international scouts are often in attendance.
Ikhsan, who is already a strong, physical presence at the tender age of 16, can’t wait for the opening whistle.
“We’re really excited. The whole team is excited to play the competition,” he said. “We didn’t really mind which teams we played, but it’s exciting that it’s Liverpool.
“We just want to try to win. I just came in from Chile and the team has been training and preparing for a few months. Our team has really improved while I’ve been gone, so I’m happy.
“We just need to focus on our own game and see how they play and try to counter. Hopefully people come down and support us and we can score some goals.”
Ikhsan concedes there is some pressure on himself and his older brother to live up to the expectations created by having such a famous father. But Ikhsan says he responds to it “by just trying to keep calm and focus on my game”.
He has a growing fanbase, including on Twitter, where he has more than 8,000 followers and likes to respond to questions put to him. They are usually related to music, fashion, girls and food.
Ikhsan is also in constant contact with his father about improving his game, even when he’s in South America.
“He always tries to tell me to be a mobile striker and move around, so it’s not too easy for the defenders to find me and hold onto me,” Ikhsan explains. “I’m not really like a traditional number nine, but I think hopefully I can be more like a supporting striker.
“My brother is more like an ideal number nine.”
Due to some FIFA restrictions, Ikhsan hasn’t been able to play a great deal so far while he has been based in Santiago, the Chilean capital, with Universidad Catolica.
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He was initially taken aback by the standards in the South American country, where football is akin to a religion, but he feels he is making progress.
“It has been my first time to South America and the players are all really strong and focused on becoming professional footballers,” he said. “It was quite a surprise at first and then I started to adapt.
“They pushed me up into one age group higher, into the under-17s, and I played against the Chilean under-15s and Colo-Colo, which is the rival of my school in Santiago.”
Following the Lion City Cup, which concludes on Sunday, Ikhsan will return to Chile. He is not yet sure what will happen with his National Service, although he still has some time up his sleeve.
He is driven to make sure he and his teammates take advantage of the opportunity offered by the return of the Lion City Cup.
“We have quite good defenders and attackers in our team,” he said. “Maybe our midfield needs to be a bit stronger against these type of teams.
“But this is great exposure for our team. Not a lot of them get to play against teams like these.”
The Lion City Cup is on this week over two match days, August 14 and August 16, at Jalan Besar Stadium. Tickets are available at http://www.globaltickets.sg/lioncitycup. Children under 12 accompanied by an adult holding a valid ticket get free entry and there are concessions for students and senior citizens.
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo