Geylang defender Aplin set for trials in Japan
Geylang defender, who was playing in the NFL over two years ago, is on the fast track in his football career
Despite making a belated start to professional football, Anders Aplin's progress has been nothing short of remarkable.
The Singaporean made his S.League debut with Geylang International two years ago and signed his first full-time contract with the Eagles only last year, during which he also earned his first national call-up.
In three weeks' time, the 26-year-old will be heading for trials with Japanese club Matsumoto Yamaga, who play in the second-tier J2 league.
All these were beyond the imagination of the 1.8m-tall defender, whose football career came to a standstill during national service (NS).
As part of the pioneer batch of footballers admitted into the Sports School in 2004, Aplin watched as his peers like Safuwan Baharudin and Madhu Mohana featured for the Young Lions in the S.League.
Aplin was the first in his batch to enlist for NS, and he eventually extended his service as a commando for a year.
He told The New Paper: "Most guys usually go into the Young Lions or the Prime League after the National Football Academy set-up.
"I saw my teammates go in that route while I was in NS, and to be honest, I thought my chance to play in the S.League was gone."
He then turned out for Singapore Cricket Club and Singapore Recreation Club in the amateur National Football League (NFL).
That was when Geylang coach Noor Ali, who was then helming Yishun Sentek Mariners, spotted him.
Drawn to his aggression and determination, the 42-year-old invited Aplin for trials with Geylang at the end of 2015.
Said Aplin: "When Noor Ali called me up for trials, it was like my life depended on it because I thought this chance won't come again.
"How often do NFL guys get trials in the S.League?"
To be sure, Aplin is not the only player to make the transition from the NFL to the professional S.League.
Teammate Shawal Anuar was also plucked from lower-league obscurity before shining in the S.League. The 26-year-old forward has already made a handful of appearances for the national team.
Aplin, who feels that talent in the NFL is underrated, said: "Players in the NFL and S.League are not very different when it comes to technical abilities.
"The only difference is that in the NFL, we don't train as much or some teams don't even train. So that's where the bridge starts getting bigger when it comes to tactical play.
"But as players, they have the ability, it could just be an issue of no opportunity."
Last year, Shawal and Gabriel Quak went for trials with Yamaga, but neither sealed a deal with the club.
This time around, Noor Ali believes that Yamaga had picked Aplin for the trials not just because of his technical abilities, but also his build.
Aplin, a Nanyang Technological University graduate, is aware that attending the trials means that he stands a chance to be the first Singaporean to play in Japan.
He said: "It's an exciting prospect but I'm also a bit apprehensive because no Singaporean has played in Japan before.
"I've been training quite regularly over the holidays to try and build myself up for this. Personally, I hope the trial goes well, but if not, then it's definitely a valuable experience."
Aplin, who has always wanted to don national colours since he was a primary school kid, said: "Before the (Yamaga) trials came about, I didn't even think of playing overseas.
"I thought that my priority was to establish myself in the S.League first, because I'm still new and into my third year, so I want to take it one step at a time.
"But ultimately, the first cap has always been my ambition."
Noor Ali feels that Aplin has outdone himself in just two years, and deserves a bigger challenge, not least because of his shining attitude.
He has noted that on training days, Aplin is often the first to arrive and last to leave. Said Noor Ali: "Anders always does extra training before and after training. This is Anders. He knows where he is lagging behind and needs catching up.
"He's a very good role model for young players. From zero, he has clearly become a hero."