Saifullah vows to fight on after 'dream debut'

Only 17, Saifullah is not intimidated by his more experienced peers and hopes to continue featuring for the Tampines first team…

Long touted as one to watch for the future, Saifullah Akbar did not disappoint in his professional debut as he grabbed a goal to help Tampines Rovers earn a 6-4 win over Hougang United.

To be able to play in the first team at the age of 17 was a dream come true, but to cap it off with a goal was the icing on the cake.

“For every player, it’s a dream to score on your debut, so it was a dream debut,” Saifullah told FourFourTwo.

“To be honest, when we were leading 4-0 at half-time, I was trying to get a goal as well, so I tried to attack more and run more.

“And I am glad I did so as when I scored the sixth goal the team was a bit more calm.”

Prior to the game, Saifullah admitted he did feel the jitters about starting in his professional debut.

The 17-year-old had expected to come off the bench and not handed a starting role, but injuries and the call-ups of several players to the national team meant Saifullah would walk down the tunnel for the game.

It took some encouragement from his teammates to calm his nerves and Saifullah showed glimpses of his potential with his neat touches and smart passes.

“I was in the tunnel, but my senior teammate Jufri Taha was telling me that it will be okay as I've been training with the senior team everyday for seven months,” the midfielder recalled.

“That actually calmed me down as I believed that I could linked up and play well with these bunch of senior players.

“There was pressure, of course, especially being put in the starting line up for the game and not coming in from the bench.

“I turned things over in my head before the game and it also helped me handled the pressure well. I told myself that I want go out there play my best, enjoy the atmosphere and being able to play with such quality senior players gave me the confidence to play.”

His father, Akbar Nawas – incidentally the coach of Tampines – also gave him healthy advice before the game.

“Even if the coach isn't my father I would want to work hard and prove myself and be in the line-up again,” Saifullah asserted.

“But he told me one way to overcome the pressure is to play for the team and play my normal game.

“And it helps because during the game I think about the team a lot and wanted the team to win. I didn't think of getting a debut goal or assist as my father said that would put unnecessary pressure on me.”

Looking to the future, the former Newcastle Jets trialist hopes he can continue to improve and cement a spot in the first team.

Even if the players who were called up for Singapore returned, Saifullah was confident he could give them a run for their money.

“It was a decent debut but I thought I could have done better because I felt my match fitness let me down in the second half,” Saifullah reflected.

“I had cramps for the last 20 to 30 minutes so I had to change my pace and keep things simple. I need to improve on this and to do that I need to play more games, which I haven’t been playing due to injury.

“I will be prepared to start and to fight with national players even if they come back. I want to train harder in training and show I deserve my place."

Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo