“There are doctors who can treat everything, and there are specialists as well. Like the specialist doctors, I want to be a youth specialist. I want to stay in this youth category. Some have been asking me why I don’t manage the Under-23s or the adults, and I mean I could do that for leisure, but it really isn’t my main interest.”Habil Hakim
A Blast From The Past
Last year, I had the privilege to interview Habil Hakim, then the Technical director of F-17 Academy. Under him, F-17 established itself as a premier youth academy that prioritizes positive coaching. I learned a lot from our session together, but most importantly that he’s a self-made man passionate about improving the standards of youth football.
At the back of my mind, I knew it was only a matter of time that a professional football entity would swoop in to pick up Habil, and low and behold, it has happened…
That’s right, the title probably has given it away already but for those who are unaware, Habil Hakim is now the Albirex Singapore Football Academy Director, which is the academy of the Albirex Niigata (S) team. Now some of you might remember that in the article I published last year, I mentioned that a move to Japan was on the horizon for Habil. The deal was on course, but unfortunately, COVID-19 rendered the move impossible. However, the White Swans seized the opportunity instead to bolster their academy initiatives with an experienced man like Habil at the helm.
The move makes a ton of sense for those who have been following local football. In recent years, the Albirex satellite team has been made to incorporate more Singaporean footballers within their setup. Part of Habil’s responsibility now is to help establish a steady pipeline of promising local youth footballers into the Albirex system.
I had the honour of meeting Habil again and this time, I inquired about his move to Albirex and his plans to help more budding young footballers raise their game through the Albirex way.
A New Challenge with Albirex Niigata (S)
While F-17 was a private establishment, this is Habil’s first foray into a professional football team setup and he is embracing this new challenge. Even though his focus will still be on youth development, he has a new role and that’s creating pathways for local Singaporean footballers to work their way up into the Albirex first team.
Interestingly, however, Habil does not want the academy to be a fully Singaporean academy. Instead, he firmly believes that there must be a mix of Singaporean and Japanese players. Since the structure of the first team involves Singaporean players playing alongside Japanese players under a Japanese head coach, Habil believes that young Singaporean players can benefit from a similar arrangement at the academy level as well.
Besides playing alongside technically gifted Japanese youth players, Habil wants to create an environment for more Singaporean academy prospects to gain an invaluable understanding of Japanese football. Understanding certain tactical phrases in Japanese as well as grasping the general Japanese attitude towards sports will definitely assist young Singaporean players who aim to play in Japan one day.
Recruiting More Singaporeans To The Albirex Way
As you can imagine, one major project that Habil has been tasked with is a massive recruitment drive to help increase the number of local Singaporean players within the academy system.
“I would like to invite as many trialists as possible and open this academy up to players who have a passion for football and are willing to push themselves to the limit. There will be two pathways that will be opened up for potential academy prospects. The first is the professional path, a challenging programme where players refine their skills and raise their game to the next level to earn a professional contract with the club. The second will be the soccer school pathway which is more recreational, meaning that players would come and enjoy their football.”
Truth be told, Albirex Niigata (S) has the capacity to connect with the local Singaporean population mainly because of the club’s efforts to give back to the community.
Furthermore, the club has a proven track record of developing promising youth talents. Ong Yu En is one player that is arguably the poster boy of Albirex’s youth development programme. While he undoubtedly possessed immense raw talent, the White Swans helped refine his skills and made him into the star he is today. However, it does not just extend to Yu En. Others like Iman Hakim, Nicky Melvin Singh and Fikri Junaidi have improved their game through the Albirex Way. These players were brought in from other clubs and have developed significantly during their relatively short spells with the White Swans.
So, just think how Singaporean players may benefit should they begin their journey at a much younger age.
Besides directly recruiting players into the academy, Albirex Niigata (S) intend to reach out to schools as well. By appointing Albirex coaches into secondary school football teams, more ‘B’ and ‘C’ division players can benefit from the Albirex style of coaching, especially if they live in the East. Casting the Albirex influence across the island also may lead to increased fans for the first team which is always a welcome knock-on effect for the White Swans.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous article about Habil, his ultimate goal is to help raise the bar of Singaporean football through improved youth development. At a professional club like Albirex, he is given the tools to impact the local football ecosystem more meaningfully. It also largely helps that he is well versed with grassroots football since Albirex can tap on his knowledge to effectively make their plans to become an academy powerhouse a reality.
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