Danish believes in extra work
Two training sessions a day aren't enough for Danish Irfan Azman.
The National Football Academy (NFA) Under-15 defender is a student-athlete at the Singapore Sports School. He trains once in the morning and again in the evening, studying in between.
But Danish, who is one of the six nominees for this year's TNP-Dollah Kassim Award, is determined to add an extra dimension to his game.
He wants to be a set-piece specialist, just like current national star Shaiful Esah, who had a hand in four of Singapore's seven goals at the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup tournament.
So he puts in extra sessions in a bid to sharpen his skills.
"I've been a fan of Shaiful for a few years already, and his technique is really amazing," said the 15-year-old.
"I practise my technique on free-kicks and corners a lot.
"When I have free time at school, I take a ball and head to the field to practise with friends.
"It's a crucial part of the game. When your team are losing, you never know when you might get a chance to help by delivering a good ball from a free-kick or corner."
Last season, while playing for the NFA U-15 team in the U-18 Centre of Excellence league and Challenge Cup tournaments, Danish scored two goals - both from set-plays.
The first came from a direct free-kick, while the other, astonishingly, went directly in from a corner-kick.
"I meant it," the teenager grinned, when asked if the spectacular effort was intentional.
Perhaps it is not a surprise Danish has gotten so good over the dead ball.
After all, he practised using his weaker left foot so much, that it eventually became his master foot.
So now, while he is still right-handed, his dominant kicking foot is his left.
One of his coaches at the Sport School, Teng Wei Ken, said Danish has been making good progress over the last 16 months.
Last November, the youngster was one of just two 14-year-olds who travelled with an U-15 Sports School squad for a training tour of Japan, and he established himself as a first-team player.
This year, Danish was appointed one of the co-captains of his Sports School team.
Said Teng: "The fact that we brought him along with the older boys to Japan shows the potential he has, and I'm glad he has continued to improve and has been nominated for the Dollah Kassim Award.
"He's a highly-disciplined boy on and off the pitch, and very well-behaved."
Having had a taste of mixing it with bigger, older boys, Danish is hoping he can do the same next year so he can accelerate his development.
"Even though I will be turning 16 next year, I hope to be make it into the NFA U-17 squad for next season so I can play in the Prime League (U-21)," he said.
"That way, I can get more exposure playing against older, stronger opponents, so I can improve even more."
- The Dollah Kassim Award winner will receive the Singapore Pools’ Passport to excellence prize, which funds the cost of sending the recipient for an overseas training stint. Singapore Pools launched the incentive in 2010 to nurture young sports talent, in line with its commitment as a leading partner in the sports community.
- Name: Danish Irfan Azman
- Date of Birth: 10 March 1999 (15)
- Team: NFA Under-15
- Height: 1.76m
- Weight: 59 kg
- Position: Left-back
- Favourite team: Manchester United
- Favourite player: Gareth Bale