TNP Dollah Kassim Award winner Iman's not resting on his laurels
TNP Dollah Kassim Award winner to start his own pre-season in preparation for Albirex move
The season has just ended on a high for Iman Hakim Ibrahim, who was crowned The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award winner last Friday but, instead of taking a well-deserved break, the 17-year-old is already preparing for next season.
The Singapore Sports School (SSP) midfielder wants to get himself ready for a potential debut in the Singapore Premier League as TNP understands that he is set to join Albirex Niigata next year.
Shortly after receiving the award trophy from Singapore Pools' director of community partnerships and communications Chin Sau Ho at a ceremony at the Jalan Besar Stadium last Friday, Iman revealed that he has training plans lined up for the coming days already.
He said: "I'm really looking forward to next year because it will hopefully be my first year in the professional league.
"I hope to become a key player for the team I eventually play for and also make a name for myself in the league."
Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee, who also attended the award ceremony, was seen in deep conversation with Iman.
When approached, Koh declined comment. But sources told TNP that Iman is among the seven local players that Albirex have signed for next year.
Iman added: "I'm aiming to start my own pre-season this coming week by going to the gym and working on the technical aspects (of my game).
"As I progress, I know it's going to be much tougher because there will be bigger and better players that I'll meet along the way, so I want to be mentally and physically prepped for that."
Standing alongside five other award nominees - SSP's Ethan Henry Pinto and Amir Syafiz Rashid, Hougang United's Farhan Zulkifli, Geylang International's Azri Suhaili Azar and Jurongville Secondary School's Arsyad Basiron - Iman was in disbelief when his name was announced as the winner.
Having found himself on the bench with the national Under-18 squad early in the year and later watching his teammates star in the SPL, Iman had previously admitted that he was rather disheartened with how stagnant the year had been for him, in terms of his football development.
But he took positive steps to improve himself. The 1.66m youngster, who used to weigh a scrawny 48kg, put in extra hours in the gym and beefed up his physique to 58kg.
The increase in muscle mass made a telling difference on the pitch as a stronger Iman secured his place with the first team and impressed during the Centre of Excellence league and AFF Under-18 Championship.
Iman's unquenchable desire to excel comes as no surprise to SSP coach Shahrin Shari.
Said the 52-year-old: "Knowing Iman, he's never satisfied with what he has achieved.
"Be it winning games or even this award, he's always shown the drive to go further and better himself.
"Through his ups and down, and his injuries, he's been able to stay focused and determined to work hard on his own, needing little motivation from coaches.
"Plus, he's a technically strong player, which really reflects the hours he puts in on and off the pitch."
Iman is the 10th winner of the award, which was named after ex-international Dollah Kassim.
Nicknamed the "Gelek King", Dollah was widely regarded as one of Singapore's best players in the 1970s.
Shortly after his passing in 2010 at the age of 61, TNP initiated the award in partnership with the Football Association of Singapore, in Dollah's memory.
When asked to sum up his win in a word, Iman beamed and said: "Grateful. I'm very, very grateful.
"I'm really happy that things fell in place because looking back, the setbacks really pushed me to become a better player.
"Things do happen for a reason, and it's important that I draw both the positives and negatives from the past few months to continue building myself."
Iman, who was also nominated for the award last year, has earned himself an overseas training stint with a reputable academy, sponsored by Singapore Pools.
Previous winners had gone on attachments with clubs such as England's Newcastle United, French sides FC Metz, St Etienne and Belgium's KRC Genk.
As Iman soars to greater heights, he is constantly reminded to stay grounded by his supportive parents.
"My parents have always reminded me to stay humble and keep working hard no matter what happens.
"They've always been very supportive of me since the start, and they don't really expect much from me, which helps a lot.
"That's why when I won the award, they didn't really know how to react," Iman said with a chuckle. "But I hope I made them proud of me."
Previous winners and their overseas training stints
NEWCASTLE UNITED (England)
- Ammirul Emmran Mazlan (2010), Adam Swandi (2011)
FC METZ (France)
- R. Aaravin (2012), Hazim Faiz Hassan (2013), Muhelmy Suhaimi (2014)
ST ETIENNE (France)
- Joshua Pereira (2015)
OMIYA ARDIJA (Japan)
- Rusyaidi Salime (2016), Joel Chew (2017)
KRC GENK (Belgium)
- Nur Adam Abdullah (2018)
" I share the special joy and pride of Iman's parents for winning the prestigious Dollah Kassim Award with his technical talent and exemplary conduct, which are essential ingredients for the award.
"I am sure that his win will inspire and motivate other young aspiring footballers to emulate him and similarly demonstrate the tenacity that has allowed him to become the role model for many.
"To further encourage young players to follow in the footsteps of Iman, FAS will constantly be on the lookout for new talent through selection trials, whilst also continuing to provide all our youth players with the utmost support needed for their development." - FAS president Lim Kia Tong
"(Iman's) a worthy winner and he can look forward to a training stint in Europe. This is another way the FAS, through the award, helps in the development of our young footballers.
"He can measure himself against quality footballers in Europe and understand what is required to make the next step." - FAS technical director Joseph Palatsides
"Singapore Pools hopes that Iman's overseas training stint would enhance his game play, bringing Singapore's football to greater heights; following the spirit of the TNP Dollah Kassim Award." - Singapore Pools' director of community partnerships and communications Chin Sau Ho
"Iman is a deserving winner as he embodies what the TNP Dollah Kassim Award is all about.
"He has suffered setbacks in his young career, but has always found the mental fortitude to bounce back.
"I hope Iman will take this award, as well as the overseas training stint that comes with it, as added motivation for him to improve and play at a higher level." - TNP editor Lim Han Ming
"I hope this award will spur Iman on to achieve greater things. To the other nominees, I hope you will not be discouraged because last year, Iman was just another nominee like you. He did not win then, but he just kept working hard." - TNP sports editor Tan Kim Han