Ali Hudzaifi desperate to make up for lost time after ACL tears
After two ACL injuries, Hougang defender is eager to make up for lost time
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||HOUGANG UNITED|
Ask any professional footballer which injury he dreads the most and the answer will almost certainly be an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
Any player unlucky enough to suffer the injury will have to be sidelined for at least eight months.
So imagine what it was like to tear the same ligament twice in 14 months.
That was the agony Hougang United defender Ali Hudzaifi had to endure.
Through sheer persistence and a never-say-die attitude, the 25-year-old has bounced back, and is set to start in the Cheetahs' Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League match against Albirex Niigata at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow.
But not without going to hell and back in the past two years.
In March 2015, just three months before the South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil, Ali suffered his first ACL tear after landing awkwardly while training with the national Under-23 team.
He did not even know he had snapped the ligament in his left knee and wanted to continue, although he was advised by his coaches to sit out the remainder of the session.
"It was only the next day that my left knee started to swell, and I could not bend or extend it," he told The New Paper.
"So I went to see a specialist and that's when I realised I had torn my ACL.
"I was really sad and down, because that was the only SEA Games left for me to compete in."
While he could not be a part of the national U-23 team's SEA Games campaign - which ended in despair as they were knocked out at the group stage - Ali resolved to recover from his setback.
He signed for Hougang at the start of last year, hoping to start on a fresh slate, but his injury nightmare was not over.
Last April, in just his fourth match for his new club, Ali tore the same knee ligament again as he attempted to tackle Young Lions' Adam Swandi in an S.League match.
Said Ali: "I knew something bad had happened, but I didn't want to believe it was the ACL again."
But scans the next day revealed the extent of the injury, and the former skipper of the talented National Football Academy (NFA) batch that included Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi faced another year of gruelling rehabilitation exercises.
He told TNP: "At some points last year, I did think about giving up and stopping.
"I thought: How long more do I have to do this (rehab)?
REPAY THE FAITH
"But with the support of my Hougang teammates, team officials and the Football Association of Singapore's science and medicine team, I managed to make it back.
"Now, every time I step on the field, a part of me wants to repay Hougang for the faith they had in me."
Despite being unable to play another match last year, Ali was offered a contract extension for this season by Hougang, who had appointed Philippe Aw as head coach.
Said Aw: "I knew Ali when he was playing for the NFA and I was a youth coach. I know he's got a good left foot and good fitness levels, but what is most important is he has a very good attitude.
"To come back from two ACL injuries in two years is not easy, but Ali wanted to bounce back stronger each time. It was all down to a great attitude."
- Garena Young Lions v Geylang Int’l
(Saturday, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
- Brunei DPMM v Warriors
(Saturday, 8.15pm, Bandar Seri Begawan)
Albirex coach wants improvement after wake-up call
They found themselves two goals down in their last S.League match, but escaped with a point in the end.
Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga believes their 2-2 draw with Home United on April 1 should serve as a wake-up call.
The White Swans play Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow night and the 49-year-old is expecting his players to learn from their mistakes.
"In that game, our individual weaknesses were revealed," said the former Shimizu S-Pulse coach.
"This happened because we did not function as a team and, mentally, we need to be stronger.
"However, the team atmosphere has been good in training since that match and we are prepared for this game against Hougang."
Against Home, Albirex found themselves 2-0 down at half-time, but rallied back through goals by Tsubasa Sano and Kento Nagasaki.
The latter equalised in the 88th minute to help Albirex stay unbeaten in four games.
The Japanese side are second in the table, behind Home only on goal difference.
Tomorrow, they face a Hougang United team who have set themselves a target of winning their first piece of silverware this season.
However, results in the S.League have not gone the Cheetahs' way.
They have managed to win just twice in five games. In their last two matches, the Cheetahs lost 2-0 to Brunei DPMM and then Home United.
But coach Philippe Aw said: "Our results have not been favourable, but if you look at our performances.... I don't know how we lost to Home, for example.
"We can take heart from those performances and try do the same against Albirex."
Yoshinaga warned his side against complacency.
"Although Hougang's results do not suggest it, they are a team with solid organisation," he said.
"They are a good team and are strong in defence."