Breakthrough year for teen footballer Mahler
Teenager goes from the U-18s to Young Lions to Lions within eight months
It's been a self-described "roller-coaster" eight months for 18-year-old Jacob Mahler.
In January, the central midfielder was part of the national Under-18 side, but, by April, he had received a late call-up for the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy that would transform his year.
He alternated between his favoured central midfield position and centre-back during the under-22 tournament in Brunei and impressed coach Fandi Ahmad, who duly fast-tracked him into his Young Lions team after the tournament.
But, during his first session with the Singapore Premier League (SPL) side, a pre-season friendly, the second-year aerospace electronics student at Temasek Polytechnic tore a ligament in his right ankle and was sidelined for two months.
That might have stalled his momentum, but it proved to be a mere speed bump in his breakthrough year.
After missing 10 matches, Mahler made his SPL debut in July against Geylang International, the first of his season's eight starts, mainly at centre-back.
By then, Young Lions coach Fandi, who also handles the national team on an interim basis, had seen enough.
He gave Mahler his first Lions call-up for the friendlies against Mauritius and Fiji at Bishan Stadium on Friday and next Tuesday respectively.
On his rise, Mahler told The New Paper: "It's been a roller-coaster year, going from the Under-18s to the national team has been a lot to take in.
"But I'm motivated and excited, it's a real honour.
"I got the news after (Young Lions) training last Tuesday. My parents usually pick me up from training and I couldn't wait to tell them the news...
"If someone had told me (at the start of the year that I'd get a national call-up), I would have said, 'No way!'
"It's been surreal."
The step-up to the full national team after just eight league starts will be a steep learning curve, but Fandi believes Mahler is exactly the kind of player whose development can be aided with fast-tracking.
On the youngest player in his Lions set-up, he said: "He's a great boy.
"He works hard and learns very quickly.
"He never complained when he was moved to centre-back...
"I don't think you should restrict youngsters to one position. If you are good enough, you're old enough to learn a new position.
"We need to fast-track players like him so they can develop.
"They won't develop quickly enough in the COE (Centre of Excellence) Under-19 League.
"We want to push them to a higher level because we are running out of youngsters."
While Fandi has been key in fast-tracking Mahler's career from the Under-18s to the full national team, it is his former Lions teammate Kadir Yahaya who has been the most influential coach in the teen's development.
Kadir coached him at St Joseph's Institution after he made the switch from representing Teck Ghee Primary in basketball due to the school not having a football team.
Said Mahler: "Coach Kadir taught me morals and sportsmanship and instilled the discipline needed to be a professional footballer. But he also made us enjoy the game."