Hami, 17, stars on S.League debut
Diminutive Garena Young Lions teen, only 17, shines on first S.League outing
As he prepared to make his Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League debut last week, 17-year-old Garena Young Lions midfielder Hami Syahin swallowed a gulp in trepidation and said a little prayer.
Who could blame him?
Across him at kick-off stood Balestier Khalsa's Serbian defender Emir Lotinac, deployed as a destroyer in midfield and meant to stifle the Young Lions' creative players, like Hami.
Emir is a no-nonsense, take no prisoners player who sports a crew cut, is 11 years older than Hami and, at 1.82m, is a head taller than the teenager (1.66m).
Said Hami: "Before kick-off, when I looked over at their players, especially Emir, I was a bit scared. But I told myself, no matter how much bigger the opponent is, they have two legs just like me.
"So I just tried to play my normal game."
And he did just that, shining in the middle of the park as the Young Lions pulled off a spectacular 1-0 shock win over the Tigers, who are one of Singapore's two representatives in the continental AFC Cup competition.
Hami's confidence grew so much as the game progressed, that he even tried an audacious shot from almost the middle of the pitch.
The effort had Balestier's national-capped goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam scrambling, but was a touch too high and cleared the crossbar.
Hami's performance made him TNP's Man of the Match. The pocket-sized player said he drew from past experiences playing in the Lion City Cup in 2013 and 2014 to help him cope with the occasion.
The youngster, who is waiting on the result of an application to join Republic Polytechnic, said: "I was nervous... It was my first time in such an atmosphere, it's very different from what I am used to.
"At Prime League (reserve league) games, there are usually no fans watching.
"This time, not only were there a lot of fans, but also, when I entered the dressing room, all the equipment had been prepared for us... It's just different. But it also made me excited.
"I played in the Lion City Cup before too, so I know what it's like playing in front of crowds.
"But I played very badly then, especially in the first year, so I wanted to make sure this time round I did better.
"I want to give of my best and make sure, at the end of every game, I have no regrets."
New Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse, who took charge of his first training session on Monday, says Hami has a bright future ahead of him because of his positive attitude.
"I like all the boys, but (Hami) I like because he is always happy to play," said the 58-year-old Frenchman.
"Always happy to defend, to attack, to kick a ball. He always trains with a big smile, always with this big enthusiasm."
Against Balestier, Hami was part of a three-man central midfield together with another S.League rookie Gareth Low, 18, and ex-LionsXII man Firdaus Kasman, who is 28 and one of two senior national players drafted in as mentors for the Young Lions boys (the other is striker Khairul Amri, 30).
Hami said Firdaus played a big role in helping him settle during the game.
"He was guiding me and Gareth all the way," said the youngster.
"Each time I made a mistake, he would remind me just to focus on the next ball and not dwell on (the error).
"In fact, many of my teammates helped guide me and I want to thank them, as well as all the Young Lions fans, for their support."
Hami added: "I don't expect too much as this is my first year in the S.League," he said.
"As an individual, my aim is to try score my first S.League goal and also play as many games as possible. As a team, we want to prove that we are capable of playing good football and springing more surprises along the way too."
"I like all the boys, but (Hami) I like because he is always happy to play. Always happy to defend, to attack, to kick a ball. He always trains with a big smile, always with this big enthusiasm."
— Garena Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse