Stephen fights back to catch Sundram's eye
After two horrific injuries, 22-year-old now catches attention of national coach
He went to hell and back twice, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) first in 2013 and then again in 2015.
It is one of the worst injuries for a footballer but, in a display of mental fortitude, discipline, determination and obvious talent, Shannon Stephen dug deep and returned to the game fully mended and raring to go.
After some impressive performances for the Garena Young Lions in the S.League, Stephen, 22, was rewarded when he got the call to join a get-together for national team hopefuls on Monday under the supervision of Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy at the Geylang Field.
While the Monday sessions are not official call-ups for the national squad, it does at least mean the central defender is a step closer to achieving his dream - to become a Singapore international.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday before a Young Lions' training session at Geylang Field, Stephen said: "It's surprising because I recently came back from the injury and it's my first time playing in a season after two years.
"To get called up this quickly is really something worthwhile and I'm really proud of it.
"Training with players who have played in previous Suzuki Cups, there is a lot that I can learn from them."
Dad Stephen Rajah was a professional footballer with the now-defunct Sembawang Rangers and Stephen started off by signing with Tampines Rovers in 2013.
While playing in a Prime League match, he collided with an opponent and tore the ACL in his right knee and underwent a gruelling nine-month recovery process.
He returned strong and joined the Young Lions in 2014.
During a training session with the team, luck deserted Stephen again when he lost his footing and tore the ACL on the same knee .
"I wanted to be part of the 2015 SEA Games squad so badly and all my hard work went down the drain," Stephen recalled.
"I had to undergo a two-stage operation to fix my knee so that I could come back to football.
"It was really long and tiring, mentally and physically. I was still schooling at that time and juggling that with recovery was tough.
"Things really got tough for me when I tore it the second time."
During rehabilitation, Stephen sought the advice of national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, who also tore his ACL in 2011 and again while making a comeback in 2012.
The encouragement and support he got from Hassan, his family and friends played a key role in his second successful return.
His comeback match was against Home United in March.
After graduating from Republic Polytechnic last year, Stephen is currently in National Service.
Physically strong, easy on the ball and a good reader of the game, the centre back hopes to stay on Sundram's radar.
For now, though, it's about staying injury-free and chalking up matches in the S.League.
"Right now, it's about performing for the Young Lions," Stephen said.
"Of course, I hope to be able to play in a tournament on a bigger international scale, since I'm not eligible for the SEA Games next year.
"Even though we might not win, just having the experience to play in such tournaments benefits us."
10 QUESTIONS WITH STEPHEN
1. Favourite food
Chicken rice, I love it.
2. Favourite drink
Black tea Macchiato from Koi.
3. Favourite movie
Star Wars. When the latest movie came out, I was really excited.
4. Favourite actor/actress
I'm more of a comedy-Adam Sandler type of person.
5. Celebrity crush
6. Favourite music
7. Favourite artist
8. Favourite EPL team
I support Chelsea while Dad supports Arsenal.
9. Euro 2016 tip
I thought France, but now Italy. I hope it's Italy and France or Italy and Germany in the final.
10. Favourite S.League player
Mustafic Fahrudin. When I was at Tampines, he was somebody who was very good with the younger players. He was a leader who taught me a lot of things and made me who I am today.