The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award nominee: Rusyaidi Salime
Thrown into the deep end in S.League, Rusyaidi adapted and excelled
Rusyaidi Salime, the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-18 right back, had not trained regularly with the Garena Young Lions before their Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League opener against Balestier Khalsa in February.
He was drafted into the side at the 11th hour, but he did so well that he eventually became a mainstay in the team.
He ended the season with the most starts in the squad, featuring in the first team in 20 out of 24 matches.
Remarkably, the defender, who turned 18 in April - was told only on the eve of the Balestier game that he would be part of the squad.
"Even then, I just passed the S.League's 2.4km time the day before, so I was not expecting to start," said Rusyaidi.
"But, at the stadium, coach (V Selvaraj) told me I would be playing, and I was shocked.
"When I was younger, I always had a dream of playing in the S.League first, before progressing further, so it really was a dream come true.
"I finally had the chance to compete against bigger players."
While he enjoyed a dream debut - the Young Lions won 1-0 - it has been a tough season for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) developmental side, who finished bottom in the nine-team S.League.
Rusyaidi said he was under no illusions, even after the win over Balestier.
"From that game, I realised that S.League football was way different from the (reserve U-21) Prime League," he said.
"Players in the S.League are much stronger and faster, and I just had to adapt as quickly as possible.
"The first match might not have been my best performance but, along the way, I adapted and improved."
Selvaraj, a former Singapore international, had little doubt Rusyaidi could cope when thrown into the deep end.
"I coached him when he was in the NFA Under-16 team, so I knew what he could do," said the 47-year-old.
"First, Rusyaidi is a good person, then a good footballer. And I think that is a very important characteristic.
"He is very humble, respectful, and always wants to learn and push himself in every training session. He has the right attitude to progress.
"I've seen so many players over the years who did not develop to play at a higher level, because they have the wrong attitude.
"We gave Rusyaidi the chance (in the S.League), and he grabbed it. And his character and fighting spirit helped him maintain his position in the team."
Rusyaidi, who is currently a second-year computer engineering student at Singapore Polytechnic, will likely be part of the Under-22 team taking part at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur, and hopes to break into the senior national team within three years.
For now, he hopes he will be second-time lucky and win the Dollah Kassim Award, after also being nominated in 2014.
"I was not too disappointed at not winning then," said Rusyaidi.
"Of course, there is some sadness, but I treated it as a source of motivation for me to work harder.
"There are always setbacks, and if you can't deal with them, you can't succeed. If you want to succeed, you have to fail first."
Read the profiles of all the nominees at tnp.sg/dollahkassimaward
If you want to succeed, you have to fail first.
— NFA U18's Rusyaidi Salime (below)
TNP PHOTO: OH XING YEE
Name: Rusyaidi Salime
Team: NFA U-18
Position: Right back
Date of birth: April 25, 1998
Favourite team: Manchester United
Favourite player: Luke Shaw