Singapore Premier League • April 3, 2018

Captain Taufiq aims to step up for Young Lions

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Defender determined to bounce back from difficult 2017 after being appointed skipper by Fandi

Taufiq Muqminin making a challenge while playing for Young Lions in 2016.

SINGAPORE, 3 APRIL 2018 – In 2010, a spry 13-year-old watched on as Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad put an armband on his left arm at an event.

Eight years on, history has repeated itself for Taufiq Muqminin.

The defender has been appointed as captain of the Young Lions this season by Fandi, who will helm the team for the upcoming Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign.

It is a “dream come true” for Taufiq, who was one of 30 school team captains – he skippered Greenview Secondary then – chosen for an exclusive VIP experience at Wisma Atria in Nike’s Write The Future event in 2010.

“I am really happy and blessed to be named the team captain by Coach Fandi and my team manager Melissa (Teo),” he said.

“I was surprised when they approached me about it during my contract signing before the season… It’s really an honour.”

One can hardly fault Taufiq for being taken aback; after all, his sole league appearance in a nightmarish 2017 lasted a mere seven minutes.

Then serving his National Service (NS) as a firefighter, the fatigue from his round-the-clock duties and fire calls carried over to the two days off he had weekly to train and play.

Taufiq was also plagued by a series of niggling injuries that prevented him from hitting his stride after completing his NS in May, then floored by a complete tear of the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL) in his left ankle in September.

“2017 was definitely a difficult period for me,” he recalled. “Things didn’t go well, be it on or off the field… Injury after injury and a lack of playing time saw me lose touch with the game.”

The ATFL injury came after the disappointment of missing out on the South-East Asian (SEA) Games squad for a second successive time, which almost caused the 21-year-old to throw in the towel.

Taufiq playing in the Lion City Cup against Juventus (Photo courtesy of Taufiq)

PERSEVERING

But the highs he has experienced on a footballing journey that started at 10 at White Sands Primary School ultimately convinced Taufiq to soldier on.

“I went for the school trials and the Head Coach asked each player to juggle the ball,” he recounted. “Everyone couldn’t juggle more than 10 times, but I was still going at over 40 times. Right after that, I got chosen for the school team and not just that – I was appointed captain!

“My parents were really proud of me and came to every match of mine to support me.”

“That was also when I thought to myself, ‘Maybe I should do this more often since it is going well for me!’”

Under the advisement of his Greenview Head Coach, Taufiq went for the National Football Academy (NFA, now FAS Football Academy or FFA) Under-15 trials and made it through. While he did not feature amongst the starters for the 2011 Lion City Cup, Taufiq bounced back to do so the following year.

The centre-back, who started off a striker before being moved into midfield and then defence, progressed through the NFA age-groups. His leadership abilities continued to be recognised, as he was named NFA U-17 captain.

A nomination for the 2013 The New Paper Dollah Kassim Award was followed by a call-up to train with the Young Lions the next year.

“I was the only one from the NFA U-18 to be called up,” Taufiq said. “I went through training and to a tournament in New Zealand. When we came back, Coach Aide Iskandar was impressed and decided to sign me for the Young Lions.”

He made two substitute appearances in a “nerve-wrecking” debut professional season in 2015 and then nine starts in 11 games the following year, before the rails came off in 2017.

“I cannot afford to give up and I kept on telling myself that I’ve come a long way,” Taufiq asserted. “My family and friends have given me endless support throughout the journey and I really cannot bear to lose my passion in football.”

Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad with Taufiq in 2010 (Photo courtesy of Taufiq)

STEPPING UP

It is also testament to the impact of his various coaches and Taufiq’s respect for them that their names roll off his tongue effortlessly: Fadly (White Sands), Norhalis Shafik (Greenview), Dejan Gluscevic (NFA U-15) and Sasawadimata Dasuki (NFA U-17), to name a few.

Having decided to pursue football full-time this year, he added: “This will be my career and also my rice bowl for the future. I told myself that I have to keep on going, and working and give my best in it!”

Having recovered from his ankle injury, Taufiq played his first game in six months during the Young Lions’ pre-season tour in Kuala Lumpur last month and is confident the team is ready for Wednesday’s SPL opener against Hougang United FC.

“We have been working hard day in, day out and I can say that even with new faces in the team, we have been bonding well on and off the field,” he said.

“It is also an honour to have the best backroom staff like Coaches Fandi, Nazri Nasir and S. Subramani… I’m sure that the team will learn a lot from them.

“It will not be easy against Hougang but I can assure you that the team will give their very best and not disappoint the fans!”

The Young Lions have not placed well in the standings in recent seasons and Taufiq hopes to help change that in his fourth campaign, while he also aims to do well on a personal level.

“I turn 22 this July and I’ve realised that many players of my age-group in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are already representing their National Teams and playing in major tournaments,” he said.

“I have to step up and I do know that it’s going to be challenging, but I will always be working hard and putting my very best in every game and training.”

An art-lover who enjoys drawing in his free time, it is perhaps apt then that Taufiq can trace a metaphorical circle in his career from the encounter with Fandi to starting on a fresh note this year.

“I am one of the senior players in the team and they (Coach Fandi and Team Manager Teo) foresee me leading the team well,” he said.

“I want to thank Coach for giving me the opportunity to lead the team. Knowing his stature, experience and what he has done for Singapore football, I hope I can be on par, or even better, as a leader for the newer generation.”

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