Shahrin's a cut above his peers
Home United defender Shahrin set to play a key role for S'pore in U-21 quadrangular
FAS U-21 INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE CUP
SINGAPORE v HONG KONG
(Tonight, 8pm, Bishan Stadium)
Uncompromising, uncomplicated, unflappable.
His coaches have only good things to say about him, and national Under-21 defender Shahrin Saberin is aiming to be on top of his game for Singapore in the FAS Under-21 International Challenge Cup quadrangular.
The hosts open their campaign against Hong Kong tonight at the Bishan Stadium , and then face either Iran or Uzbekistan on Saturday.
Shahrin, the 21-year-old Home United centre back, is the only member of Richard Tardy's 20-strong squad who plays regularly for a local professional club in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Most of the other players have gone through the National Football Academy (NFA) pathway and are part of the developmental Garena Young Lions team doing battle in the S.League.
Shahrin believes this puts him in good stead.
"Players who go through the NFA system are part of the same setup the whole time, so they never had to adapt to different styles," he pointed out.
"I had to adapt to different teams in the Singapore Sports School, then the Warriors, the Under-19 Singapore Cubs, then Home United."
"We need more players playing regularly in the S.League with clubs, like Shahrin is doing," said the French coach.
"He can help us because when he joins (the U-21 team) he brings something different to the team.
"He's a positive guy, he has maturity from playing in the S.League and his presence in training is good for our group."
When he was 15, Shahrin failed to make the cut for the national Under-15 squad that took part in the Youth Olympic Games.
So, he joined the Under-16 team of S.League club Warriors FC and progressed up the ranks into the Prime League side.
In 2014, he joined the Under-19 Singapore Cubs that played in the Prime League, coached by then-FAS technical director Slobodan Pavkovic.
Shahrin enlisted for National Service (NS) a year later, and signed for Home as a Prime League player.
Little did he know he would taste S.League action just months into his contract.
"My first game was against the Young Lions (Home won 2-0, in August last year)," said Shahrin.
"I remember I felt quite a bit of pressure because I didn't think I'd play in the S.League so soon.
"But after a few games, coach Philippe (Aw) told me he wanted to turn me into a national 'A' team player.
"That really motivated me, to know someone had that kind of trust in me. So I've tried to work as hard as I can in every training session."
Aw had no qualms about throwing Shahrin into the deep end.
"He's got aggression, he's got good speed for a centre back, and he's got no fear," said the coach.
"These are the reasons we played Shahrin when Abdil (Qaiyyim, senior defender) wasn't available last year. And he's improved a lot since.
"Of course, as a young player, he will make mistakes. But what's important is we correct them and he learns from them, and now those mistakes are getting less and less."
Shahrin played seven matches for Home's first team last season, and has built on that, starting 12 of the club's 16 games in the S.League this term.
Aw has so much confidence in the youngster that he named him in the starting 11 of the Singapore Selection side that took on 33-time Malaysia Cup champions Selangor FA in the Sultan of Selangor's Cup exhibition match in May.
Even with 70,000 home fans baying for Singaporean blood in the white-hot atmosphere of the Shah Alam Stadium, Shahrin held his own in the first-half.
Unfortunately, he picked up a second yellow card minutes after the break and was sent off, although the visitors went on to win on penalties.
"The experience was out of this world," said Shahrin.
"Coach Philippe told me he might call me up for the squad, so I should be ready, and he might play me for 10 or 15 minutes.... But I ended up starting.
"At first, I was nervous but as the game got going, I just got used to not looking at the fans.
"If you concentrate on them, you will become gabra (Malay for panicky). So I just shut them off."
Aw is tipping Shahrin's star to continue to rise.
"Playing regularly in the S.League helps him learn how to cope with different types of strikers, how to mark strikers who are very strong or very quick, for example," said the coach.
"If he keeps his feet on the ground, I'm sure he can be a regular in the senior national team for years to come."
'EARN YOUR SEA GAMES SPOT'
If you want a spot in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games squad next year, show what you can do in tournaments like the FAS Under-21 International Challenge Cup this week.
That's the message national U-21 coach Richard Tardy has for his players ahead of their first match tonight against Hong Kong.
The Frenchman also challenged the youngsters to force their way into the starting line-up of their clubs and earn regular match time in the professional Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
"I have a list of (about) 35 players for the SEA Games," said Tardy, at yesterday's pre-match press conference at the Oasia Hotel.
"We are monitoring their progress. Most of these players are with the Young Lions, but there are also some young players with S.League clubs.
"The target I give to all these players is to play regularly in the S.League, not just to make the bench. That is where they can gain experience."
On Monday, Tardy told The New Paper he wanted to see his players play for the shirt.
He also demanded a better showing than that produced by the team in last month's Nations Cup quadrangular in Malacca, where they lost both their matches.
Singapore attacking midfielder Adam Swandi said the team are fired up to prove a point.
Said the 20-year-old: "The Nations Cup didn't end very well for us, so each of us has to prove to ourself and our coaches we deserve to be in this team.
"Hopefully, we can perform individually and as a team."
The youngster, who spent two years at the academy of French club FC Metz, hoped local fans would be a factor as Singapore square up against quality opposition.
Iran's senior football team are ranked top in Asia, while Uzbekistan are third.
Hong Kong are ranked 24th, and Singapore 28th.
Hong Kong coach Kim Pan Gon, meanwhile, played his cards close to his chest when asked about how his team would approach the match.
"We treat this tournament as a treasure because it's a good opportunity to develop our young squad," said the South Korean.
"Sometimes we lack experience... So we are excited to play against Singapore, and we want to know where we stand."
Defender Lau Hok Ming said the Hong Kong players relished the chance to face the other teams.
"We are all excited to play in this tournament," said the lanky 20-year-old.
"The other teams are all strong but we want to beat them because we came here for a reason, and with a target: To give good performances and take results back to Hong Kong."
With the SEA Games 13 months away, Tardy is more focused on his team's performances rather than results, and he wants his boys to play with no fear.
"At this time, the result is perhaps not very important, but when you play a tournament you want to win it," he said.
"And this is the spirit I hope my players will play with."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
At this time, the result is perhaps not very important, but when you play a tournament you want to win it.
— Singapore U-21 coach Richard Tardy (above)
Each of us has to prove to ourself and our coaches we deserve to be in this team.
— Singapore’s Adam Swandi (above), on the poor outing at the Nations Cup
Sometimes we lack experience... So we are excited to play against Singapore, and we want to know where we stand..
— Hong Kong coach Kim Pan Gon (above)
We are all excited to play in this tournament.
— Hong Kong defender Lau Hok Ming (above)
FAS Under-21 International Challenge Cup
The Under-21 teams of Singapore, Iran, Uzbekistan and Hong Kong
- Iran v Uzbekistan (Today, 5pm)
- Singapore v Hong Kong (Today, 8pm)
- Third-place play-off (Saturday, 5pm)
- Final (Saturday, 8pm)
- Tickets at $8 and $3 for concession holders (students aged 16 and below and senior citizens 60 and above) are on sale on the Global Tickets website (www.globaltickets.sg) and AXS Stations, up till 3pm on match days. Each ticket allows entry for both matches of the day. Redemption for online and AXS purchases can be done at Bishan Stadium on match days. On-site sales available at Bishan Stadium on match days from 3.30pm. For details, visit www.globaltickets.sg or call Global Tickets at 3152-9333.