Game Week 2 saw a ton of drama unfold, with Matchday 2 and Matchday 3 of the Singapore Premier League being played mid-week and over the weekends, respectively. To stress, we are featuring the players that have been consistent over the two matches. In that sense, don’t be that surprised about the sheer number of Hougang United players that feature in the squad. Let’s be honest. The Cheetahs were simply unstoppable this week.
Last week we had fans forum contributor, Kim Ng. This week we have Lions Of Asia creator, Sakda Chan. Follow Lions of Asia on Facebook and Instagram!
As usual, your opinion may differ from ours, so let us know what you agree or disagree with and we’d happily engage in a friendly debate.
Mukundan Maran – GK
Even though Mukundan made two howlers (one in each game), the custodian really redeemed himself in both fixtures with some fine saves. He makes the cut this week because of his undeterred resilience to carry on.
Known for having the shortest shorts on the block, Lionel was stellar this week in both fixtures. Scoring a goal against the Sailors certainly was the icing on the cake for the centre-back.
Irfan has really done well since returning to the Stags and he has been pretty stellar at right-back. Turning only 22 this year, the future looks bright for young Irfan, and it will be exciting to see how this season pans out for him.
As usual, the Singapore icon was consistent this week and came close to scoring as well, with his header bouncing off the framework in one of the fixtures. Ever-reliable, it is bewildering to think that Bai is 37 years old.
The man known as “The Truck” in the Hougang camp was superb in both fixtures this week, and his presence in the middle of the park certainly aided the Cheetahs in their resounding victories over Sailors and Geylang.
The “engine room” of the Hougang midfield, Kaishu, who usually featured as a central defender alongside Tajeli Salamat at Lion City Sailors last season, was a real constant presence throughout the Cheetahs’ midfield in both fixtures this week.
In his first season with Hougang, the former Young Lions player has certainly impressed. An exciting player down the right flank, Idraki really contributes with his off the ball play, and his link up play with the Cheetahs’ attack this week was stunning to see.
Like his fellow winger Idraki, Farhan put in another outstanding performance over the course of the week. Still only 17, it’ll be interesting to see how he grows this season. With 2 assists in 3 games, Farhan will surely add to this tally and notch a few goals this season. It’s only a matter of time.
The Forward Line
What a talent. What an absolute joy to watch. Doi was in red hot form this week as he notched 4 goals and 2 assists over the two fixtures. It may be early days, but my money is on Doi clinching the Golden Boot at the end of the season.
1 goal and 2 assists this week, Big Bad Boris put in a decent showing in both fixtures to make it into our Team of the Week. Kopitovic should be scoring more, but it’s only a matter of time until the Montenegrin begins to be racking up the goals.
The Brazilian may not have scored many goals, but his hold up play has been instrumental for Hougang’s attack. The Doi-Fortunato partnership has immediately set off, and the rest of the league need to be cautious of this seemingly lethal partnership. Hopefully the duo keep it up.
Special Mentions MD2 & MD3
Here are some honorable mentions – standout performers in each day but could not crack into our combined team because of the consistency of the 11 players we selected.
My buddy Kim Ng co-wrote this one with me. Cheers Fam! The 2021 edition of the Singapore Premier League has finally kicked off, and what a thrilling first game week we’ve had. We want to start something new here at SoccerKakis, so we’re launching our very own Team Of The Week Series! Of course, your […]
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Where do I begin with the Young Lions? The club was formed in 2003 to provide some of the most talented Under-23 footballers with regular professional footballing experience. Besides having the chance to play together on a regular basis and maintaining team cohesion, the Young Lions project provided these players the opportunity to play against senior footballers and national team stalwarts. It was created with the primary goal of helping the national Under-23 team perform well in regional international tournaments like the SEA Games. However, the project has largely been a failure.
Jose Raymond recently wrote an article titled OPINION: Time to scrap the Young Lions, and truth be told, he makes excellent points. The Young Lions have not performed well in the SEA Games. That is in fact an understatement – their showings have been significantly poor. The national under-23 team “has not made the finals of the SEA Games final at all, and have been knocked out at the group stages in 2003, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2019.”
I agree mostly with Mr. Raymond, but his article also got me thinking about ways we can salvage the current Young Lions side. Let’s be honest, it seems like that the Young Lions project would most likely continue. The FAS has invested too much in the project to let it go to waste. Instead of scrapping it, how then do we save this sinking ship? How do we materialize the FAS’s vision of the Young Lions becoming a platform for developing elite footballers for Singapore?
We first need to find out what issues exist, and there are two glaring problems that have plagued the club for a long time now – finding the perfect head coach for the club and improving the overall quality of youth players in Singapore. I think improving the quality of youth players in Singapore merits a separate article altogether. The Young Lions have not really had a brilliant coach that specializes in youth development and who also is really familiar with Singaporean football. For some reason, I couldn’t find a complete list of coaches who helmed the project. So I did a bit of archival research work. These are some of the Young Lions coaches:
List of Some Young Lions Coaches
P N Sivaji
2020 – present
If there is any inaccurate information – do let me know
That being said, out of the lot, Fandi Ahmad and Kim Poulsen are arguably the most successful. Under Poulsen and then Fandi, the club finished 3rd in the 2004 and 2006 seasons respectively. These 3rd-place finishes are their highest ever finish to date. Other managers have been less successful, and, more often than not, the Young Lions find themselves at the bottom of the league. So, who would be the right candidate?
Gavin Lee could be a good fit for the Young Lions given his ability to bring the best out of youth players at Tampines Rovers. His youth-centric policy has turned Tampines Rovers into the Singaporean Ajax of sorts. However, just like Ajax, Gavin’s Tampines side has done relatively well because he can successfully blood in exciting prospects around more senior heads. Yet, Gavin has to be given due credit because he believes in developing young players into first-team regulars.
Amirul Adli, Joel Chew, Shah Syahiran, Ryaan Sanizal, and Syahrul Sazali have become significantly better players under his charge. It would be interesting to see the impact he would have on Iman Hakim and Marc Ryan Tan, who are both real wonderkids, this upcoming season. Boris Kopitović and Taufik Suparno are the only senior strikers at Tampines, and Marc would indeed find opportunities aplenty. He featured nine times for Young Lions in the brief 2020 campaign but never played a full 90 minutes before. His two starts (where he was hauled off midway through the second half) and seven substitute appearances add up to 252 minutes of professional play. Likewise, Iman Hakim has been stellar for Albirex, and under Gavin’s tutelage, he is sure to become even better. In any case, while a move to Young Lions might prove to be an exciting project worth undertaking, it would be a step down for Gavin. The man is destined for bigger projects outside of Singapore, and it is only a matter of time before we see him manage in bigger leagues overseas.
One name pops to mind – Lee Lim Saeng. The former Home United head coach is a revered figure in the local footballing landscape. He won the Singapore Cup with the Protectors and guided them to two runner-up positions during his 4-year spell with the club. The Korean has gone on to achieve spectacular feats since leaving Singapore’s shores. After leaving Home United in 2014, Lee went on to the Chinese Super League where he held head or assistant coaching positions at Shenzhen FC, Yanbian Funde, and Tianjin Teda between 2013 and 2018. Between 2018 and 2019, Lee was appointed as the Korean FA (KFA) technical director for the national Under-20 team. Suwon Samsung Bluewings swooped in for Lee in 2019, and he won the Korean FA Cup with them. He departed Suwon in 2020 and is currently engaging in an ad-hoc consultant role with the Korean FA.
The obvious question would then be why would someone like Lee be interested in the Young Lions project. That is an excellent question to ask. Given his current role as KFA consultant, it would appear that Lee is interested in the prospect of national team management. The Young Lions job would traditionally entail managing the national under-23 side for international fixtures and competitions. It would be interesting if Lee took up the Young Lions job and the national under-23 team position. Many local players that have had a chance to work under Lee know the impact he has on a team and how he can transform a player.
Some fans might be doubtful as to whether a new coach might help or not. Instead, they might argue that scrapping the Young Lions is the way forward in ensuring that each club is incentivised to train its youth players. Here’s the thing though, do each club truly have the facilities for youth development? I don’t believe so. Furthermore, there isn’t any club that is ready to join or return to the Singapore Premier League. While there are rumours that Warriors FC might rejoin this campaign, nothing has materialised thus far. There have been even talks that Albirex Niigata might have to sit out because of their inability to fill up their squad with players. If no team rejoins and Albirex pulls out, there will be only eight teams remaining in the league (7 if Brunei chooses to pull out). In such a scenario, perhaps it is impractical to scrap the Young Lions.
Nevertheless, the FAS should bring Lee into their set up – preferably as the Young Lions and National U-23 Head coach. The FAS needs to consistently update and improve their plans to develop Singapore football. With Lee’s current role in the KFA, his experience coaching in top-flight football across East Asia, and his familiarity with Singapore, he would become an important asset. I say give someone like Lee 3 years at Young Lions. Time is a crucial factor because it allows Lee to implement the changes he wishes to make. At the end of the three years, if nothing significant changes, then I guess the Young Lions should be permanently ended. Let’s give the project one last opportunity to yield some results.
I think change is mostly good. When an organization makes changes, it should be commended for actively making some positive change or at least intending to do so. Nevertheless, it is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes made after some time. In this light, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) needs to assess […]
In Part 1, I looked at Gavin’s journey to coaching in top flight football. In Part 2, I look at Gavin’s first full year as Tampines Rovers head coach and some of the things he has learned and experienced. Takeaways from His First Year There was a lot of buzz when Gavin got appointed as […]
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To many ardent Singaporean football fans, Ignatius “Iggy” Ang is a familiar name. The midfielder has played for several local clubs and even signed for Lions XII in 2014. While he was a youth player, his coaches regarded him as a star for the future. However, he hasn’t been able to reach that potential. Throughout his professional career, Iggy has been on the peripheries of the national team and is still without a cap. Well, that’s the case for now. I think in due time, Iggy is on course for his first senior cap with the national team.
I had the opportunity to chat with Iggy the past week, and it was fantastic to chat with the player, who currently plays with Tanjong Pagar United FC. I remember Iggy well. He turned out for Warriors FC, my beloved club, in 2016 and again from 2018 to 2019. He played an integral part of the Warriors team that miraculously reached the finals of the 2019 Singapore Cup despite the club’s dire financial situation, where several wages were unpaid for months on end. This is his footballing story thus far.
Beginnings in Football
Like many of us, the midfielder started playing football when he was very young. Usually playing around his neighbourhood, he recounts tales of his friends accidentally smashing window panes and also making too much of a ruckus, which often led to neighbours lodging complaints. However, his footballing journey truly begun at Bendemeer Secondary School.
“I met my then coach, Patrick Mancha, who was a Nigerian player in the NFL. He told me one thing – that I’d play for the national team one day. Even after he left the school, he used to give me calls to check on me. He was really the first one who showed me the way of football.
“He always told me to score at least 1 to 2 goals each game and whatever he advised me to do, he was already doing in the NFL.”
Unfortunately, Iggy lost contact with Mancha and he wants to reconnect with his former coach to update on what has transpired so far.
Besides starting football properly in Bendemeer, Iggy also began to develop a keen interest in the S.League during this period. Staying opposite Toa Payoh stadium, he was an ardent Balestrier fan growing up. In addition to heading down to watch the matches live, he was also a ball boy. He even was part of the Balestier supporters group and played a significant role in creating an excellent matchday atmosphere for Balestier by playing the big drums.
As a 15-year-old, he signed up with the club he had supported years before and linked up with Balestier Khalsa’s youth team in 2007. Current Balestier head coach Marko Kraljević managed the midfielder back then, and under the German-Croat, Iggy flourished. In his first Under-16 game, despite his rawness and lack of football maturity, he scored 2 goals. He enjoyed a relatively good season at Balestier before Kraljević told Iggy to attend the NFA Under-16 trials at the end of the season. However, while not one to shy from a challenge, Iggy was apprehensive about such an opportunity.
“When coach Marko told me to go for the trials, I didn’t want to go at first because I felt I wasn’t good enough and may not be on part with them because at only 15 years old then, they had beaten the Malaysia Under-16 team.”
Kraljević recommended Iggy for the trials, and thankfully, he duly impressed then NFA under-16 coach Abdullah Noor. He went on to sign up with the NFA Under-16 side, and it was thanks to Kraljević’s insistence and recommendation that his football career took on this trajectory. Iggy would then rise through the levels and feature at the NFA under-18 level before getting promoted to the Young Lions squad in 2011. However, his tenure with the club would be a short-lived one, and after 6 months of finding a lack of opportunities, Iggy headed to Italy.
Sembawang Soccer Academy Fiasco and H-TWO-O Dream Team
I remember the Sembawang Soccer Academy Fiasco really well. Long story short, the Sembawang Soccer Academy launched an ambitious local initiative where it would send a squad of 24 players to Italy under the charge of Singapore icon Fandi Ahmad. The players would train at Genova International School of Soccer (GISS) with the opportunity of becoming professional footballers. However, financial issues plagued the club and they were unable to pay GISS the agreed-upon amount. GISS, unable to pay for the accommodation of the Singaporean players, then booted out the players, who were residing in a hotel in Pisa.
“I went to Italy with coach Fandi. I honestly don’t know how I went to Italy and got back [home]. We were kicked out of our hotel but we weren’t really stranded. We kept on moving from place to place for two whole months.
“It was a really ambitious project. They gave us a $1,500 allowance and we were meant to tour Italy for longer than 2 months by right. Given National Service requirements, however, we couldn’t stay out of the country for more than 2 months at a time. So, the plan was two go to Italy for two months, come back to Singapore for a week, and then we were supposed to go to Germany.”
After coming back from their Italian adventure, some players went to pursue their interests. On the other hand, others from Sembawang Soccer Academy would then form the H-TWO-O Dream Team, who Fandi Ahmad managed. The team played friendly matches throughout the year, and the finale of that year was when the Dream Team faced up against Iggy’s old outfit, Young Lions.
“It was 2-2, but then we lost on penalties. I did score the first goal, and it was kind of special because I was playing against most of my teammates.”
The Sembawang Soccer Academy may have seemed like a disaster initially, but it is a blessing in disguise. After all, it allowed Iggy to learn from a national icon like Fandi Ahmad and also kick start his professional career.
Early Years in the Professional Career
The following year in 2012, Iggy signed up with S.League side Hougang United, where he played in both the S.League and Prime League. Iggy would look back at his time at Hougang with fondness because this was the club where he scored his first professional goal in the S.League. After a single season with Hougang, he returned to Young Lions in 2013 but opportunities were limited yet again and he needed a move elsewhere.
Then, in 2014, the biggest move of Iggy’s career happened. Lions XII, the Singapore XI that participated in the Malaysia Super League aiming to capture the footballing glory days of the 20th century, came calling, and Iggy answered that call without a moment’s hesitation. However, instead of pushing Iggy’s career into the stratosphere, the move did the exact opposite.
Yet again, he linked up with Fandi Ahmad, but this time, he never once featured for the Lions XII side throughout the season. Iggy’s confidence took a big hit.
“Maybe I was raw, or maybe I did not show coach Fandi enough? After all, Fandi knew me from my time with the Dream Team. He told me how I was a different player [from the time he was with the Dream Team] and that I needed to prove to him that I can do it. Throughout the whole season, I just kept on training, but I didn’t feature once for the team.”
In hindsight, rejoining the Young Lions was a wrong career move. At Hougang, even though he was signed as a Prime League player, Iggy was featuring consistently for the S.League team under Nenad Baćina. When Baćina moved to manage Tampines at the end of the season, the Croatian was keen on bringing Iggy with him.
“I remember meeting coach Baćina at Clementi Mall and he wanted to bring me to Tampines but I felt that since most of the national team players were there, there was too much competition in the squad [for my liking]. I thought I wouldn’t have the chance to play. I thought by moving to Young Lions, I would have much more chances of playing.”
In 2015, after his uneventful stint with Lions XII, Iggy linked up with Marko Kraljević yet again. Marko offered Iggy a lifeline to rejuvenate his career and gain some much-needed confidence. On top of that, he guided Iggy throughout the season. He would call Iggy into his office and go through what areas the midfielder should work on – be it whipping in more crosses or making more passes. These sessions with Marko went on to have a major impact on the player’s career.
“I think he still saw the potential in me as he once did when I was 15 years old. That season, he gave me a lot of opportunities and shouted at me a lot. I mean that year, I was nominated for the Young Player of the Year Award. To me that was a big achievement, imagine not kicking a ball in 2014, to being nominated a year later.”
Warriors, National Service, & Financial Saga.
After a stellar season with Balestier, Ignatius moved to Warriors for the 2016 S.League campaign but only would feature for half a season because National Service came calling that June. Iggy had delayed his national service call-up because he wanted to obtain his polytechnic diploma. The midfielder finished his NITEC, Higher NITEC, and then proceeded to complete his diploma in 6 years. This extended educational track explains why he was pretty old when he enlisted. Focusing on his education also gave Iggy the time to focus on his football because he still had free time on his hands.
However, enlisting put a temporary stop to his footballing career because he didn’t get released to play and train with Warriors FC, whom he was still under contract. Juggling National Service commitments and their sporting careers is a common problem that many male athletes face in Singapore. Singaporeans are called up anytime between 18 to 25, which are critical years for footballing development. A total break away from the sport can seriously hinder the efforts of footballers who aim to reach their potential. Thankfully, his footballing development was not completely stunted because he managed to play for the SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association) team that played in the National Football Division. Furthermore, Iggy also enjoyed his National Service because he enjoyed his vocation.
“I was in 48 SAR, and I was a tankie. I really enjoyed my NS because I drove a tank for close to 2 years. People can say that they drive a car or a bike, but not many people can say that they drive a tank. It was just unfortunate that I couldn’t get released [to play for Warriors] throughout the whole time.”
Towards the end of his National Service, he did manage to train with Warriors periodically. Still, it wasn’t until he completed his National Service in May 2018 that he transited back to football full-time. However, it wasn’t a fairy tale return to the club, because he suffered an injury shortly after returning to football full-time.
“I was playing maybe 5 games. I scored two goals and assisted one in those 5 games. Then, I got injured just before Albirex. It was so disappointing. I was supposed to start against Albirex and [the way I got injured] was so stupid. We were doing some possession [drills], and I jumped for the ball, but I landed awkwardly and twisted my ankle in the process.”
National Service had prevented him from playing the first half of the season, and his injury meant he missed a good chunk of the second half as well. After he returned from injury, Ignatius told himself that 2019 was going to be his year. Up till the moment he enlisted, Iggy had always been a student-athlete. For once, he started a season without any additional academic responsibility bearing down his shoulder. However, after starting brilliantly for the club, Iggy came down with the flu and took Medical Leave. He was told to sit out for their upcoming trip to Brunei to recuperate. This marked the end to Iggy’s starting position in the Warriors squad. He was rarely selected after that. Competition for places in Warriors that 2019 season was incredibly tough, and no one was guaranteed a starting spot.
When it emerged that Warriors FC would have to sit out the 2020 SPL season due to their financial troubles, it rocked the Singaporean footballing community. While other clubs have pulled out of the league due to financial difficulties before, both players and fans were astonished when a massive club like Warriors suffered a similar fate.
“To be honest, no one saw this coming. You know, it’s Warriors! None of us expected this, and it showed us [players] that football is insecure [when it comes to job security]. People come and go. We can’t take it for granted.”
Iggy was one such player affected by the unpaid wages issue but thankfully is getting paid back now through an instalment plan.
“The last 6 months of 2019 was a bit tough for most of us but don’t ask how we went to the finals of the Singapore Cup. When we’re on the field, we just try to win and we try to forget the financial troubles off the field. We were helping ourselves and tried to push each other. In the end, I don’t know how we managed to go on 5 months without a salary.”
Fresh Start and New Role at Tanjong Pagar
After running down his contract with the Warriors, Iggy made a trip to Phuket for a much-needed vacation from football to take his mind off things. He usually travels with 3 of his close friends and flew from Phuket to Bangkok to meet up with them. Shortly after landing, Ignatius and his friends went to a shopping centre, having some Japanese food when his phone suddenly rings.
“It was Noh Alam Shah. I didn’t know why he was calling me, and I didn’t know whether to answer. After my friend asked me what I was waiting for, I picked up the phone. I knew Noh Alam Shah on and off previously. He called and asked what my plans were for the future. I told him I didn’t know and he told me that there might be that a club might be coming [to sign him].”
After that call, Iggy didn’t want to waste any more time. As a habit, he brings his running shoes whenever he travels and he hit the treadmill in the hotel gym the very next day. Over the next month, Noh Alam Shah was in constant contact with Iggy but he didn’t confirm Tanjong Pagar’s impending return. Thankfully, the club returned to the league and Iggy jumped at the opportunity to sign up with the Jaguars. The only regret he has is that some of his Warriors teammates had to leave professional football.
Iggy now finds himself in a unique position as a mentor to younger players in the club. When Tanjong Pagar rejoined the SPL, they were comprised almost entirely of Under-23 players, with Iggy being one of the few senior players in the squad. Usually known as a happy go lucky and playful individual, he tries his best to advise and set a good example for the younger players in Tanjong Pagar. Despite the youthful and rather inexperienced squad, Tanjong Pagar have done well for themselves. Drawing both matches against high-profile opposition, Iggy believes that the club’s future is bright.
Besides football, Iggy currently is looking to pursue a degree in Physical Education and currently holds an AFC ‘C’ license. He helps out with ActiveSG from time to time on his off days. He wants to either be a coach or an educator down the road but for now he has other immediate goals in mind.
What’s next in the immediate future for Iggy you might ask? Well, it’s simple – living up to Patrick Mancha’s assessment that he’ll play in the national team one day.
“Everyone wants to play in the national team. I’m already 28 and time is catching up. I really need to push myself now and try to earn a cap. If I don’t play for the national team, there is really nothing to talk about me. Some of my teammates in Young Lions have all gone on to establish themselves as national team players and there’s me, who’s yet to receive a call-up.”
From my interaction with Iggy, it is clear that he is going to do whatever he can to work harder and improve his game so that he can earn a senior cap for Singapore. That being said, he’s focused on helping his team first and foremost. Thankfully though, new coach Tatsuma Yoshida has breathed new life into the national team set up. While his predecessors have always chosen the same select few, the Japanese coach isn’t shy to experiment and provide call-ups to fresh faces. If Iggy continues his hard work and never give up attitude, I am sure that he’ll represent Singapore in due time.
When that happens, I’ll be sure to interview him again about that experience.
If you haven’t already done so, check out Part 1 of the article! The Unrealized Dream of Representing Singapore Camara wanted to give back to Singaporean football because the S.League and Home United not only gave him the chance to pursue a professional career, which was something he probably wouldn’t have in France, but also […]
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Anders Aplin’s footballing story is an interesting one. In 2018, he made headlines when he became the first Singaporean player to sign with a Japanese team. Even though it was a loan move to Matsumoto Yamaga F.C, the deal caught my attention primarily because Anders Aplin was not a household name. 2 years earlier, Singapore’s […]
On the crossroads facing Arsenal and their young French midfielder, and why the right choice may not be the obvious one… Mattéo Guendouzi arrived in North London as an unknown, rose to be a promising and exciting young prospect in an Arsenal team with several exciting young talents, but just as quickly as that all […]
Sirina Camara is a familiar name to those that have been following Singaporean football closely in recent years. He arrived on our shores in 2011 with Étoile FC, a foreign team comprised entirely of players of French origin. Following the dissolution of the club in 2012, Camara and some other French players remained in Singapore. Slowly though, these players left the country and ventured elsewhere, but Camara remained. He played in the S.League for a total of 8 years, where he spent a season at Young Lions FC, followed by a total of 6 seasons at Home United. During that time, the FAS seriously considered naturalizing the defender, along with other promising foreign stalwarts in the league like Jordan Webb, Paul Cunningham, and Song Ui-young. Yet, nothing materialized. Camara continued to occupy the foreign player slot and put in consistent performances for The Protectors. Then, in 2018, Camara abruptly left Home United in October and was never heard from again.
Camara’s departure has always been a mystery to me. As an idealistic fan or perhaps a naive youth, I was confident that the Frenchman would be a mainstay at Home, if not the S.League, and eventually gain Singaporean citizenship. I knew he suffered an injury mid-way through the season which ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign, but something was off. Why did he not feature for Home the next season?
I reached out to Camara and he agreed to share his experience with me. And boy, was it an experience.
Early Days with Étoile and Missing Home
In 2011, Sirina Camara was not a professional footballer and instead had been playing for the LB Châteauroux Academy. After 4 years, it didn’t seem like he was going to make the cut to the Châteauroux team and he was weighing his options. At 18 years old, he had completed school and was forced to make a difficult decision – should he continue to play in the academy and hang on to his footballing dreams, or does he quit football entirely and look for a job. Camara chose the latter, and he took up a janitorial job cleaning offices. He was a janitor for 2 months, but it was barely enough to scrape by. His mother had fallen ill, and the responsibility to provide for his family fell on him. Then, out of nowhere, a call from an agent comes along. The agent informed him that there was an offer to trial for a French club in Singapore, and he’d have to fly down to Singapore in short notice. Given the dire financial situation he found himself in, he decided to take up the offer without a second thought.
“I won’t lie. I didn’t know where Singapore was in the world. I have never been to Asia before. But it was an exciting time for me. I was only 19 years old and one of the youngest in the Étoile FC squad. For me, when I got that offer, I told myself okay, let’s just go with it and see where this will take me.”
Camara was supposed to complete the two week trial with the club, head back to France to spend sometime with his family, and then return to Singapore to start the season. Things didn’t pan out that way though, and his initial stay in Singapore turned out to last a few months instead.
“When I arrived, it was already the Charity Shield tie against Tampines. After the Charity shield the league started [soon after]. So, I didn’t get the chance to return to France to tell my family that I signed with a club in Singapore and spend some time with them. Instead, I stayed here after signing the contract.”
It wasn’t until months later in August when Camara was able to head up to France. It was his sister’s wedding and he couldn’t control his emotions when he reunited with his family.
“I had 10 days and when I was back, I cried and hugged my family like as if I was not going to see them anymore. When you’re young, you’re innocent. You don’t really know [the value] of your family. You just want to go outside and play. Even when I was at the [Châteauroux] academy, I was only 2 hours away. It wasn’t long. But when you take a 13-hour flight and when you’re that far away from you family, it is very different. I realized the importance of family.
“When i came back [to France], I didn’t want to go back to Singapore. It was my first year. I was scared and I was young, only 19 years old. Luckily, my family talked to me and then just took me, put me in the plane and sent me back over there to play soccer.”
Embracing Local Culture and “becoming” Singaporean
Étoile finished 5th that season and after 2 seasons in the S.League, the club withdrew from the competition and instead focused on grassroots football development. Together with Étoile teammate Jonathan Toto, Camara was snapped up by Young Lions FC, the national under-23 developmental side. It marked the start of Camara’s career in a local club, and it was also the first time he was properly exposed to Singaporean culture. In fact, his time at Young Lions was one of his happiest years in Singapore. However, he initially faced issues due to the language barrier.
“When I was in Étoile, I did not need to speak in English because everyone spoke French. At Young Lions, Toto was with me and he always helped me translate because his English was very good. However, after some time, Toto told me we needed to stop speaking French and to just speak English [instead]. It was only through [practice] that my English would get better.”
To make matters worse, Camara was a shy person, and some of his teammates mistook him for being arrogant because he always kept to himself or stayed with Toto. Looking back, Camara understands why people might have seen him as arrogant. However, it was a case of him not knowing enough English to strike a conversation with local players.
Thankfully, his Young Lions teammates soon warmed up to the defender, and he claims that it was the local players that opened his eyes to Singaporean culture. That marked a paradigm shift for the Frenchman as he started to see Singapore and Asia in a different light. As a Muslim, he found it fascinating how he could find Halal food almost anywhere in Singapore and was awestruck by the religious and racial co-existence in the city.
“When I went back to France during my first year with Étoile, I only had little things to share about Singapore with my family because I always stayed home. It was home, training, home, training. My second year when I returned to France, I had a lot of stories to tell my family. My teammates always brought me outside and I tried so many cuisines [that I hadn’t tried before in my life]. Now my favourite Chinese food is Chicken Rice. My favourite Indian food is Butter Chicken and my favourite Malay food is Maggi Goreng.”
Besides the cuisine, Camara also experienced the festivities of other faiths for the first time, something that he fondly remembers while at Home United FC.
“I remember [Ang] Zhiwei [invited] me over to his house and spend Chinese New year with his family. My other friend, Arvin, brought me over to his house for Deepavali and he gave me all sorts of spicy food. It hurt me the morning after but the food was so good. I also celebrated Hari Raya with my fellow Muslim players and that made my mother happy. She calls me every Hari Raya because she’s concerned about my well-being and always tells me that she misses the fact I’m not there [in France]. I tell her not to worry because the people I am with, they are like my family.
“I am so thankful to all the players for taking me in and treating me like one of their own brothers. It is not easy for a foreigner to come to a new country that has a different culture but all the players I play with and even the managers, I am so thankful to them for making my stay enjoyable.”
Camara wasn’t just content with sharing details about Singapore to his loved ones back home in France. He believed they needed to fully understand his experience and thus made it a point to show his family and friends life in Singapore. He showed his family and friends around whenever they came down for a holiday and soon they too loved the city-state. Camara even declares that like him, his family and friends who have visited Singapore agree that the country is the best place they have ever visited. Still today, Camara acts like a spokesperson for the country, urging those around him to visit Singapore.
From the start till the end of his Young Lions tenure, he thoroughly enjoyed his playing time. With all his team mates being in the same age group, it felt as if he was back playing in the academy once again. However, he would only stay at the club for a single season before moving onto greener pastures.
In Part 2 of this interview, I’ll dive into the details of his unrealized dream of representing Singapore, Camara’s experience at Home United and how that stint with Home started brilliantly but then ended on a sour note. Stay tuned for that article which will be published on Thursday! Until then, we will be publishing articles on the Premier League and other footballing articles so take a look!
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