Nizam eager to fulfil early promise
Home United striker, once touted a bright young hope, wants to cement his place with the Lions
Blessed with a strong physique, a good leap and a nose for goal, a teenage Khairul Nizam was once billed as the next Fandi Ahmad.
But in the blink of an eye, the Home United striker is already 25 and still searching for his first senior international goal as injuries and ill discipline combined to rob him of a more prolific scoring record.
In fact, he thought the national selectors had given up on him after giving him 16 caps.
Recalled ahead of the upcoming friendly with Afghanistan in Qatar and the Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain, he told The New Paper: "I'm happy with the call-up, but also surprised as I thought the national coach would not call me up anymore because I was too injury-prone.
"So, I just focused on enjoying club football, and this is really a bonus.
"I know I have not scored for the national team yet. It could be a lack of luck, playing time or because I didn't work hard before."
Nizam also admits his folly in being involved in the infamous Young Lions-Beijing Guoan brawl in 2010 and his outburst after Singapore lost 3-1 to Malaysia at the 2014 Suzuki Cup.
Candidly, he admitted: "I had a hot temper, I was lazy and just went with the flow.
"But I thought about how I am turning 26 this year, I am no longer a young player and I cannot go on like this anymore. If I continue with my bad habits, I will get nowhere."
This realisation that time waits for no man has made Nizam knuckle down in his football career, which did not go unnoticed.
National coach V Sundramoorthy said: "We can all see that he is more focused in the way he approaches training sessions, whereas previously he was more playful.
"As he ages, he knows that football is his bread and butter, and he has to take it more seriously.
"There are not many targetmen in Singapore football, so I hope he keeps his form and fitness and transfers it onto the international scene."
Injury has indeed haunted Nizam over the past few years, in which he has undergone three knee surgeries since 2012 to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.
But since his latest setback last year which ruled him out of the Suzuki Cup, Nizam is feeling stronger than ever.
In just three starts and two substitute appearances for Home, he has racked up a goal and four assists, which led to his national recall.
"It was damn hard because of the start-stop situation," said Nizam of his troublesome left knee.
"People kept telling me that my knee was not strong because I did not do the necessary rehabilitation. But they don't know that I kept doing the exercises until my whole leg was too tired to play a game.
"I was supposed to go for another surgery but after taking a jab, it now feels way better than before.
"I'm thankful to be able to play for Home in the AFC Cup, which lets me face different styles of play, learn and improve. I'm feeling good and happy and I'm enjoying the game once again."
There is another reason for Nizam's new-found maturity - in July, he will marry his fiancee Ayu, whom he has dated since he was a teenager.
"She has been with me through my ups and downs," he said. "I still remember how she would push me on a wheelchair to the Night Safari while I was injured and bored. I remember being amazed by her strength as she wheeled me up and down slopes.
"She has been a really big source of encouragement and motivation. With her support, I feel I have calmed down over the past year and learnt to be aggressive but not angry.
"I have to grow up and step up and be a good example to younger players. More importantly, I need to work harder to earn better contracts to provide for my family. So, I need to be more serious and professional.
"Raddy (Avramovic) gave me my first cap in 2010 but I was still young and there were many strikers such as Aleksandar Duric, Agu Casmir, Qiu Li ahead of me. Under Bernd (Stange), I was on and off with injuries.
"At 25 now, I really hope that I can start to be a key player for the national team. I realise now that the international level is different from playing in a domestic league and I will work harder than before to contribute."