Never give up, Alcacer tells young athletes
Valencia forward gives a real-life lesson of grit and commitment to young athletes
They gathered at the ITE College East campus to receive their awards, kindly disbursed by the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship, but young Singaporean athletes at the auditorium yesterday received more than just a monetary boost to fuel their sporting dreams.
They got to witness - first-hand - a show of strength in adversity.
Told just days ago that he had been dropped from the squad and will not represent Spain at the upcoming European Championships, Valencia's 22-year-old forward Paco Alcacer did not take time off to mope.
He instead flew to Singapore to join four of his teammates on a visit to the region to spread the positive message of sport.
Valencia is owned by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim, with some players and officials at the club welcomed as special guests at the scholarship presentation ceremony.
While Alcacer - Spain's top-scorer at the qualifiers leading to the Euros - did appear crestfallen as he took the stage to field questions from the young athletes, his presence harked to the grit within.
"When life is not fair, and there's suffering, or bad moments, you just have to wait, even if you cry," said Alcacer, through a translator - and he was not even speaking of his exclusion from the Spain squad.
It was a graver tragedy he referred to.
In 2011, Alcacer's father died from a heart attack at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium just minutes after his son, then 17, came on as a substitute to score in the team's 3-0 win over Roma.
"You just try to improve, to be a better person - you use that sad moment, use that sad moment to better enjoy life (later)," he added, as a hush fell over the auditorium.
Among the 308 student-athletes present, there were those with challenges of their own and they were grateful for the scholarship.
National hockey forward Ahmad Faris Johari was one of them.
"The scholarship has been very helpful, it has allowed me to not take pocket money from my parents.
"My family is not very financially stable and it has helped me with school fees, buying hockey equipment, and even helped with expenses when we (national team) went to Perth for a training stint last year," said the 18-year-old Temasek Polytechnic student.
This is the third time that he has been awarded with the scholarship that was launched in 2010 with a $10 million donation from Peter Lim.
There have been 1,758 scholarships awarded to date, across four categories with varying amounts disbursed - primary ($1,000), secondary ($2,000), tertiary ($3,000) and high performance ($5,000).
Faris was part of the men's team that finished fourth at the nine-team Hockey World League Round 1 tournament at the Sengkang Stadium earlier this year.
The men are poised to participate in the Asian Hockey Federation Cup later this year.
National sprinter Kugapriya Chandran was also a recipient yesterday.
Priya is from a single-parent household, with mother Punitha Saminathan responsible for both her and 17-year-old brother Yogeswaran.
The 18-year-old ITE College West student said: "This additional incentive helps to pay for my school fees, the sporting equipment I need for the track and my daily expenses… it has helped me in many, many ways.
"I am humbled and grateful for the support and the recognition. Being recognised… gives me more motivation to train harder and to be a positive role model for younger athletes."
It is not easy because there is a cultural difference. Spanish people are more expressive. But as Singaporeans, we are more reserved... ... Such culture differences can sometimes cause a little bit of misunderstanding. They may feel that we are being cold.
— Singaporean Chan Lay Hoon, Valencia chairman, who said yesterday that Asian owners of European football clubs can find it tough because of cultural differences. Chan was installed as club chief by Singapore billionaire businessman Peter Lim, the owner of Valencia, who came under fire last season because of the team’s struggles
'France to win Euro 2016'
AUTOGRAPH TIME: Valencia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan signing an autograph on the back of a scholarship recipient yesterday.
After joining Valencia in July last year, Mathew Ryan became part of the Valencia revolution undertaken by Singapore billionaire businessman Peter Lim, who took control of the struggling club in May 2014.
The Australian No. 1 goalkeeper played for Club Brugge in the Belgian top flight for two years before moving to the Mestalla and played 21 times for Valencia this season.
With Belgium regarded as darkhorses to win the European Championship - held in France from June 10 to July 10 - and Spain the defending champions, Ryan is perhaps well-placed to predict the winners, considering his experiences on the continent.
"It's difficult to go past France for me and the quality of the players in their squad just makes them too strong," said the 24-year-old yesterday.
"Spain didn't perform when they played at the World Cup, but they've gone on a good record to qualify for the Euros and they have a fighting chance.
"Hopefully, Spain will meet France in the final."
Here for the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship awards ceremony, held yesterday at ITE College East, Ryan and four other Valencia players - Santi Mina, Paco Alcacer, Javi Fuego and Jaume Domenech - and club legends Gaizka Mendieta and David Albelda visited the Australian International School yesterday for a mock press interview with the students.
While the move to one of the biggest names in Spanish football was a cause for celebration for Ryan, the goalkeeper also had to endure pain and frustration after he tore his right meniscus.
He had to undergo arthroscopic surgery that left him sidelined for six weeks last season, which was a difficult time for Valencia, who saw two managers axed as the club struggled and eventually finished 12th.
LOS CHE COMEBACK
Ryan believes Los Che will make a comeback next season.
"We plan to return as a force to be reckoned with," he said.
"Lots of changes that will benefit us will probably happen in the summer."
Lim has already steadied Valencia's financial footing and Ryan says the club will move forward with him at the helm.
"In this day and age, money talks," Ryan said.
"He (Lim) is someone of big importance, he has helped the club recruit very good players.
"He has only been in Valencia for a short period of time and I'm sure the more his presence is felt in the club, the more successful it will be."