There's still hope for errant footballer Hanafi, say local coaches
He might have fallen off the rails, but it's still not too late for Hanafi Akbar to pick himself up and realise his potential.
The New Paper reported yesterday that the 19-year-old had been arrested for alleged drug offences on Wednesday morning.
The skilful forward, who shot to fame when he starred for Singapore at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, is understood to be out on bail.
While Hanafi has not been charged with any offence, Abdullah Noor, who was assistant coach of the much-vaunted Youth Olympic team, expressed his disappointment at the turn of events.
"When my friends sent me pictures of TNP's report, I felt sad," said the 53-year-old, who is coaching in Indonesia.
"One reason is because he's a one-of-a-kind player, and the other is because he's so young.
"But it's not too late for him. If I were a coach of a club in Singapore, I would take him in my team."
Since his exploits in 2010, the youngster has had disciplinary issues like failing to turn up for training.
The football grapevine suggested he was no longer interested in football.
Hanafi is actually contracted to S.League side Balestier Khalsa but is currently in National Service with the Singapore Police Force.
Former national goalkeeper Yakob Hashim, who was a policeman for 31 years, is also convinced there is a way back for Hanafi.
In 2010, Yakob set up Newstarz United, a club that strive to give a new beginning to those with a chequered past.
He pointed to former national midfielder Gusta Guzarishah as an example.
In 1997, Gusta was arrested for drug offences as a 20-year-old and, while he never truly made the most of his considerable talent, he did go on to win a Tiger Cup (now known as the Suzuki Cup) winner's medal in 1998 as part of the national team.
Said Yakob: "Hanafi is young and he needs the right person or people to guide him along.
"Most importantly, he must want to change. People can pray, hope, wish he changes for the better, but Hanafi himself must want it."
Yakob was the goalkeeper coach of the 2010 Youth Olympic team, which were an Under-15 side.
He felt the reason the coaching team, led by Kadir Yahaya, managed to get the best out of Hanafi was because they helped him off the pitch.
"When we coached him, we really took care of him," said the 55-year-old.
"Even after training, we would keep tabs on where he went, what he did.
"But, after the tournament, in one of the few conversations I had with Hanafi, he told me he had lost interest in football as he felt he wasn't learning much as part of the national Under-16 team.
"That's when he started mixing with friends outside football a lot and how he got involved in these things, I think."
Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy, who took a chance on Gusta when he was coach of Jurong FC, believes Hanafi should be given a second crack at football.
The Dazzler, as Sundram was known in his playing days, was one of many great players Hanafi was compared to when he shone on a big stage five years ago.
"He's a great talent, there's no denying that," said Sundram.
"I can't comment on whether he had bad influences, or what not, but it's all about himself.
"He has to be the one to try and turn things around, and I think he can do it.
"It'd be a waste if he doesn't."