Irfan answers nation's call before Chile return
After scoring against the Japan Under-23s and Syria Under-23s in recent age-group international friendlies, Irfan Fandi Ahmad is emerging as a potential star striker for Singapore.
Still only 17, the 1.86-metre tall Irfan was attached to Chilean club Universidad Catolica last year, and he recently signed for S.League side the Courts Young Lions in a deal that ends on June 30.
Some local fans have questioned the wisdom of Irfan plying his trade in Singapore, even for a short stint, when there is an opportunity to train and develop in a stronger league in South America.
Yesterday, Irfan explained to The New Paper that he wants to help the country's cause in two assignments - the AFC Under-23 Championship qualifiers later this month, and the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which will be held here in June, after being approached by the respective coaches.
And he is confident his development will not be hampered.
"It's been nice being home, having spent my time studying and playing football in Chile, and I thank the fans for their attention and support," said Irfan, who will return to Chile in July to chase his professional football dream and work towards his A Levels.
"Playing for a club like Universidad Catolica has been a great experience. I'm back for a short break before I go to Chile again to pursue my studies and my dream of playing professional football, in South America or Europe.
"After discussing with the Football Association of Singapore and my dad, we managed to secure a temporary release from my club to prepare for the SEA Games, which allows me to play in the S.League.
"I'm grateful for their understanding and support and I'm thrilled to be able to actively train with the Under-23s.
"I have been diligently training with both the pre-Olympic and the SEA Games squads.
"Playing competitive football in the S.League against senior players gives our team an excellent chance to prepare for the SEA Games.
"As I embark on my journey to be a professional footballer, I intend to come back to play for my country whenever possible."
Despite being a striker, Irfan was deployed as a centre back by national Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar in the Young Lions' 1-0 defeat by Tampines Rovers in an S.League clash on Thursday.
The youngster put in a good shift and Aide said yesterday: "Irfan is a bright young talent who can be an asset for us at the SEA Games and we appreciate his contributions as we work towards doing well in the tournament.
"I understand that he cannot sign professional terms with the Chilean club until he turns 18 in August, so since he is in Singapore, it is natural for us to approach him to play for us and prepare for the SEA Games.
"This is also a good way to provide him with regular competitive games in the S.League, and we will not stop his development if he wishes to go to Chile after the SEA Games."
Irfan's father, legendary Singapore striker Fandi Ahmad, has been there and done that.
He has coached many youngsters when he led the Courts Young Lions and is doing the same now for the LionsXII.
Sadi Fandi: "We are happy to help Singapore's cause as we try to qualify for the AFC Under-23 Championships and do well at the SEA Games.
"We are confident that Irfan will continue to develop well in his short stint at the S.League, as well as playing against older boys from other Asian and Asean countries."
"Irfan is a bright young talent who can be an asset for us at the SEA Games and we appreciate his contributions as we work towards doing well in the tournament."
— National Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar