Name: Gabriel Quak Jun Yi
Nickname: Quicksilver Quak
Date of birth: Dec 22, 1990
Positions: Left winger, second striker
Honours: Lion City Cup (champion, 2006), South-east Asia Games (bronze, 2009)
AMONG the pictures of Arsenal players and Lionel Messi that adorn Gabriel Quak's study table is a laminated piece of paper with four short paragraphs of text.
One paragraph reads: "As parents, we will do our best to provide for you as best as we can. We will always be here to give you love, advice and help."
While the 21-year-old's parents, Alan and Juet May, are fully supportive of their son's footballing dreams now, they were not as keen when he first started playing football seriously at Guangyang Secondary School.
And that was despite their own "sporty" backgrounds.
Alan, a 54-year-old senior technical associate at a building consultancy, recalled fondly the old Malaysia Cup days when he used to queue overnight at the then-National Stadium to buy match tickets, and even once climbed into the stadium for a Singapore-Penang game even though it was sold out.
Mother Juet May, 50, an early childhood educator, represented Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School in hockey in her younger days.
Nevertheless, she admitted that she discouraged Gabriel from playing football as she felt it was dangerous.
She said: "I told him that track and field is okay because there was no body contact.
'While I played hockey for my school before, it is different when I become a parent. I care for the safety of my children a lot."
And so, athletics became Gabriel's calling card in his primary school days at Catholic High School, even though he would play football at the amphitheatre below their Bishan apartment, returning only when his mother literally shouted from the balcony of their 12th-storey unit to do so.
The winger would also hone his craft at home with his younger sister Gu Ting, 15, with the doorway and the balcony serving as goalposts for their one-on-one duels.
Gabriel's parents remained sceptical even when he started playing for Guangyang, the Combined Schools team and the National Football Academy Under-15 team.
Like many Singaporean parents, Alan and Juet May placed more emphasis on their children's studies.
And despite his intense passion for the Beautiful Game, Gabriel had doubts over making football a career as well.
He said: "There weren’t many Chinese players around, (so I thought) maybe Chinese players really cannot make it in football."
But both parents and Gabriel credit former international Kadir Yahaya for changing that perception.
Then the NFA Under-15 coach, Kadir would regularly meet with his players' parents and teachers to discuss their schoolwork, giving them time off to study during exam seasons.
Alan said: "Kadir knew that football would take up a lot of time and their studies would definitely be affected, so he gave us the assurance that he would take care of all the players and treat them as though they were his own."
The sincerity and hard work of the ex-Lion – now the LionsXII assistant coach – changed the mindset of Gabriel's parents, and also assured the young player that he could be a good player one day.
While it took some time for his parents to come around to the idea of their only son wanting to become a professional footballer, they are now die-hard supporters of the pacy winger.
Alan, in particular, even travels to support his son in overseas competitions, and was most recently in Jakarta for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
The decision to play football has proven to be a right one so far for Gabriel, who has a Lion City Cup winners' medal (2006) and a SEA Games bronze (2009) in his trophy case, along with a place in history as part of the first squad to compete in the Malaysian Super League since 1994.
Incidentally, Quicksilver Quak is the only Chinese player in the 29-strong squad helmed by ex-international V Sundramoorthy.
But the path thus far had not been easy, starting with a Chinese boy assimilating into a sport that is traditionally dominated by Malays in Singapore.
And then there are the naysayers, both during his school days as well as his current National Service stint, who doubt the feasibility of life in professional football.
But Gabriel derives both satisfaction and motivation from these "detractors".
He said: "I have people who come up to me, even recently after the SEA Games, to tell me 'Hey Gabriel, good goal' or 'Good luck for the M-League next year'.
"These are the people who initially felt that I shouldn't play football, and it gives me great satisfaction and encouragement to hear such words from them because it means that I have made the right choice."
And while he was worried about his footballing future following his four-month ban after the Young Lions-Beijing Guoan brawl last year, Gabriel stressed that he never considered walking away from the sport.
Said the Arsenal fan, who aspires to play in the J-League one day: "We all face problems in our daily lives, and even when I face problems, I look forward to going for training.
"I'll really put everything aside – relationship problems, quarrels or scoldings – and feel very carefree during training."
And he is naturally excited about starting a brand new adventure in the fabled competition.
He said: "I can't ask for more really. The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) gave me another chance and I will work hard to get into the LionsXII matchday squad of 18, and hopefully I can prove I'm good enough for a place in the starting XI."
12 QUESTIONS WITH GABRIEL QUAK
Do not have any regrets and do not be half-hearted in anything you do because it is what you have chosen. My dad and a teacher once told me this.
Jessica Alba and Jennifer Aniston.
I am not really a movie fan, but the last movie I watched was You Are the Apple of My Eye.
What's in your iPod?
Mostly R&B songs, although I do listen to some old love songs. I am currently listening to Glad You Came by The Wanted.
If I weren't a footballer, I would be a...
Tennis player. I started watching tennis about two years ago and even went to Bangkok to watch the Thailand Open with a friend because Rafael Nadal was playing. We then bought a racket each and booked a court to play the next day. But now my interest in that is a bit more toned down!
Best prank ever?
I was walking in the shopping centre with my friend and there was a lingerie sale going on in the atrium. My friend borrowed my phone without telling me why, threw it into a pile of bras and walked away. The phone went quite deep into the pile and there were people looking at me as I looked for it.
Boxers or briefs?
Long or short hair?
Hobbies outside football?
I love hanging out with my friends. I am not really a homely person.
Tell us something that no one knows.
I don't like vegetables, and because of that I can go up to a week without having to do a "big one". That's why I have no problems in National Service, especially during field camps!
Any pre-match superstitions?
I like to step onto the pitch with my left leg first.