No substitute for hard work: Nur Adam's takeaway from Genk stint
It's practise, practise and practise - that's TNP Dollah Kassim Award winner's takeaway from stint with Genk
A training stint at top Belgian side KRC Genk's reputable academy delivered a crucial reminder for Nur Adam Abdullah that the key to footballing success lies in hard work.
During his European attachment from May 9-18, the Young Lions defender trained among some of the world's most promising youngsters, some of whom had played at the Under-17 World Cup in 2017.
Seizing this opportunity to learn from them, the 18-year-old sought advice on how to be a better footballer.
The answer he got was simple: Practise, practise and practise.
Adam had earned the stint - courtesy of Singapore Pools - after winning last year's The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award.
While training with the youth academy that groomed the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Divock Origi, he took the chance to ask what makes a good footballer.
Again, he was told by the club's coaches that the rise of their academy graduates was largely down to an innate drive to improve.
De Bruyne, who has become Manchester City's talisman, might not have been the best when he just joined Genk's academy in 2005.
But that only fuelled his desire to improve by asking for coaches' advice and training hard on his own. Eventually, he was promoted to Genk's senior squad in 2008, paving the way for his move to Europe's top clubs.
Hearing the story behind de Bruyne's rise has only inspired Adam.
"It motivates me because even though you may not be good now, if you keep working, you can do better," he told TNP yesterday.
"All of them were very focused during training. With these good players, it gives me the motivation to work harder and be at their level and even beat them."
Hard work is a common trait at Genk, whose senior team won their fourth title in Belgium's top-tier league just last week.
At the academy, there were two training sessions daily, the first in the morning and the second in the afternoon.
Adam recalled how one of the players had gathered a few balls and headed to the pitch before the second session to hone his set-piece skills.
Each training session demanded the best out of every player, and it was evident in the way that Genk's academy players relentlessly chased down every ball and was committed to training.
There was nothing fancy about the way training was conducted. The drills were simple but effective and players would continually practise them till the movements became almost second nature to them.
While the players' technical abilities varied, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) general manager of youth development S. Varatha Rajan, who accompanied Adam, observed that one thing remained constant - their drive.
The 51-year-old said: "You can see the hunger when they train because they don't want to lose out. Everybody is working super hard, you don't have to ask the boys to run hard, the coaches just need to sharpen what they have to work on."
Rajan believes that Adam will benefit from the stint, which was arranged through FAS' former technical director Michel Sablon and former consultant coach Guy Martens, who is now Genk's goalkeeper coach.
Rajan added: "I'm glad that Adam did what he did because his attitude was right. He was running for each ball, he was not shying away, he was going for it."
What impressed Adam and Rajan was how most of Genk's players were ambipedal, displaying equal prowess with both feet.
That took some getting used to for the left-footed Adam, who practised drills to train his right foot in a one-on-one session with the Genk academy's technical director Koen Daerden.
To improve his ability to use his right foot, Adam plans to continue with the drills at the street football court near his house on his rest days and before training.
The teenager was also awed by the players' versatility, as they could seamlessly take on various positions on the field.
Adam, who can play as a left-back and centre-back, said: "What surprised me was that all of them can play any position... It's good to be versatile because coaches like players who can play any position."
The experience has left Adam wanting to play in Europe one day, but he knows it will not be an easy journey to get there.
Hence, he is taking things one step at a time by honing his craft and setting his sights on somewhere nearer first.
He said: "If I want to go to Europe, I'll challenge myself to go to Japan first. I'd like to go to Europe, but I'll have to slowly improve towards that."