Ismadi, 30, on national call-up: I thought it was a prank
He was overlooked for the national team so many times that he had given up all hopes of a call-up.
No wonder Tampines Rovers winger Ismadi Mukhtar was sceptical when he received a text message from someone proclaiming to be Lions coach Bernd Stange last week.
The 30-year-old told The New Paper: "I received a missed call and then a message from the same number that said, 'This is Bernd Stange, national team coach. Please call me back'.
"Of course, I didn't believe it, lah! I thought someone was trying to play a prank on me.
"More or less, I had already given up hopes of a call-up. At my age, I have zero expectations.
"But I returned the call, and it really was him. He told me he was impressed with my performances and wanted me in his team."
Ismadi's selection has raised some eyebrows, as the Lions' AFF Suzuki Cup campaign will begin in six weeks and he had never been considered by former national coach Raddy Avramovic.
But those who watch the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League regularly know the waifish winger possesses terrifying pace, and is as hardworking as they come.
He was even named in TNP's S.League Team of the Year at the end of 2012.
Stange said that Ismadi caught his attention this season with his all-action displays for Tampines, where he has played in left and right wingback, as well as attacking midfield.
The German coach said that he will not hesitate to call up senior players as long as they are good enough.
Just before the Lions left for a training camp in Austria in July, Stange spoke to the media at the airport and reportedly complained about the lack of young players in the S.League.
But he said yesterday: "I'm looking for a special type of player... and Ismadi caught my eye.
"Very much later, I found out he turns 31 this year. So it shows I don't care about age.
AGE NO BARRIER
"This is a wrong message that has somehow been passed to the media. My captain at Belarus, Alyaksandr Kulchy, was 36 years old, but he was a top player."
However, Stange warned that being a senior player means Ismadi must carry more responsibility, even if he is a greenhorn at international level.
"I want him to make a difference and show he can lead," said the former Hertha Berlin coach. "I don't invite a 30-year-old into the national team to be just another player. I need killers.
"My message to Ismadi is simple: Take the chance."
Ismadi insisted that he is up for the challenge.
"I don't want this to be a short-term thing, and I want to be in the Suzuki Cup squad," he said.
"My Tampines teammates like Mustafic Fahrudin and Aleksandar Duric have supported me and told me what to expect in the national team and I want to experience it for myself.
"The pressure is normal and it's healthy. Tampines are a big club in the S.League, so every match, every training session, you're also under pressure to perform. I hope I can share whatever experience I have with some of my younger teammates."
- Name: Ismadi Mukhtar
- Date of Birth: Dec 16, 1983
- Height/weight: 1.68m/55kg
- Position: Wingback/winger
- Clubs: Home United Prime League (2007) Woodlands Wellington (2008-09), Tampines Rovers (2010 to present)
- Favourite player: Paul Scholes
- Favourite food: Chicken rice