A breakthrough year for TNP Dollah Kassim award nominee Azri Suhaili
Teen midfielder makes SPL debut, earns national U-18 call-up and is nominated for TNP Dollah Kassim Award
The year 2019 has been a special one for teenage footballer Azri Suhaili Azar, who just keeps racking up the milestones.
The 17-year-old, who plays for Geylang International's Under-18 side, earned his Singapore Premier League debut in March, making him one of the youngest to play in the professional competition this season.
He made his second appearance for the Eagles two months later and played the full match against eventual champions Brunei DPMM.
Soon after, he received his first call-up to the national Under-18s. This came as no surprise to Geylang youth coach Dalis Supait, who nominated him for The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award.
The annual accolade recognises deserving local youth footballers, with the winner going on an overseas training stint with a reputable academy, courtesy of Singapore Pools.
"Azri is disciplined and dedicated about football. I knew the day would come for his national U-18 call-up because he deserves it," said Dalis, 48, a former Singapore international.
"Personally, he is a very nice boy. As a player, he has good behaviour, attitude and character. Even though he stays far, he's had perfect attendance."
The first-year electronics engineering student at Institute of Technical Education College West in Choa Chu Kang travels to Tampines for the Eagles' training sessions.
After that, he travels across the island back to his home in Boon Lay. Those long journeys were well worth it, as he found himself improving steadily.
In the Centre of Excellence U-18 League, he grabbed a goal and four assists in 11 games for Geylang.
At his maiden international competition, the Asean Football Federation U-18 Championship in Vietnam three months ago, Azri scored the only goal of the game against Cambodia.
Off a free-kick, the central midfielder found the ball bouncing past the defence to the right of the penalty box and calmly chipped it over the goalkeeper.
"That is my favourite goal," he said, beaming. "I wanted to bounce back after playing badly during my debut against Vietnam (in the previous game). I was too nervous and didn't play well.
"I wanted to prove to everyone that I deserved a spot in the team."
He celebrated before embracing his teammates in a group hug.
"I felt blessed and I thought about God. I felt more confident after that."
Azri aspires to play in the J-League or for La Liga club Valencia. He also hopes to turn out for the Lions one day.
Coach Dalis believes that he is capable of it, despite his pint size.
The teenager stands at 1.60m but holds his own on the pitch by using his guile, vision and quick passes.
Said Dalis: "Azri is small-built but if he keeps working hard, he can play for the national team one day.
"I was one of the smallest of my time at 1.69m, but I played for the country. Size is not an issue in football... I know he can go far.
"I'm proud of him. I hope that being nominated gives him more confidence. It doesn't matter if he wins or not, he deserves to be recognised and for people to know that he has the talent."
Name: Azri Suhaili Azar
Team: Geylang International
Position: Central midfielder
Date of birth: July 12, 2002
Favourite team: Manchester City
Favourite player: Bernardo Silva