News Singapore Premier League • June 1, 2018

Adam Hakeem battles back to stand tall again with Young Lions


The 21-year-old finally made his professional debut this season, four years after his last competitive game

Adam Hakeem rises to win an aerial duel against Brunei DPMM FC.

SINGAPORE, 1 JUNE 2018 – Adam Hakeem’s height has served him well in his football career, his 1.94-metre frame allowing the defender to eat aerial duels for breakfast.

There was a time in his life not too long ago, however, when the towering 21-year-old was laid low.

It started when he suffered a right wrist fracture while playing for the National Football Academy (NFA, now FAS Football Academy or FFA) Under-17s towards the end of the 2014 season. An ankle injury the following year further curtailed his development.

The physical knocks were swiftly compounded by mental blows. While injured during 2015, Adam faced personal issues and the same year also saw the passing of his grandmother, whom he was very close to.

Gradually, the kid who picked up football under his father’s influence and turned out for Tampines Rovers FC and Geylang International FC at youth level, lost his desire to play the sport.

While still in the NFA set-up, the centre-back did not play a single minute for the U-18s as he was unfit – he failed his 2.4km test and ballooned to 97kg.

“Every time I saw my father, he asked why I was wasting my talent and (told me) I should be playing at club level,” Adam told the Singapore Premier League (SPL) website.

“I did miss the game, honestly, but it was hard for me to come back. There were so many things on my plate and I could not put football as another thing.

“It (grandmother’s passing) was really heartbreaking… It was affecting me emotionally and mentally.

“Everything was going so badly (so) I didn’t want football to go badly (too), which would have made things worse.”

Adam had to look after brothers Amer and Ammar, and sister Alyssha – now 20, 15 and 14 respectively. This included helping them with their studies, particularly with the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) coming up for the youngest two then.

“I am the oldest so I had to step up,” he stated simply.

“When you are 17, 18, you wouldn’t want to be thrown into (such a situation). That was the hardest period (of my life) – I don’t think many people can say that they’ve had to experience (something like) it during their late teens.

“Most people ‘man up’ when they go into National Service (NS) or something but I got it much earlier; I was forced to grow up.”

Adam looks up to Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk and tries to emulate him.

Grappling with these curveballs taught Adam a lesson – eventually, it will all work out.

“I learnt that you cannot always put the weight of the world on your shoulders – sometimes you just need to relax and not put too much pressure on yourself,” he reflected.

“That no matter what you go through, you can come out of it, no matter if it’s your lowest point, as long as you continue persisting and pushing yourself.

“Even if it takes one day, two days or a month, it will get better. That’s my mentality now.”

Things have taken a marked upturn since. Last May, Adam accepted Fandi Ahmad’s offer to join the National U-20 side. He had rejected the first call in January, not convinced it was the right move – he had not played for close to three years apart from representing his school, Temasek Polytechnic, and was out of shape.

He had also declined interest from a few clubs over the years, but the allure of Singapore’s favourite footballing son eventually proved too hard to resist.

“He’s someone you look up to and (when) he’s interested in you… he’s the biggest factor why I came back,” Adam said.

Within seven months, his weight whittled down to 83kg, thanks in no small part to Fitness Trainer Aleksandar Bozenko pushing him every day. “I worked my a** off, honestly,” he laughed.

Four years after his last competitive game – a Prime League match for NFA U-17 in 2014 – Adam made his Young Lions debut in the Young Lions’ second SPL match of the season against Warriors FC.

The 92nd-minute substitute was assigned to shackle Kento Fukuda, who had won “every single header” during the game, which they won 1-0.

“It felt amazing,” Adam recalled. “That moment is one of the best of (my career). He (Fandi) had belief in me to come in and make sure we didn’t concede. That gave me a bit more confidence to push on and try to work my way into the first eleven.”

On the long bus ride back to Jalan Besar Stadium from Choa Chu Kang afterwards, the number five reflected on how far he had come from nearly giving up to fighting his way back. He smiled: “I was kind of proud of myself!”

Adam’s first start was in a 2-1 comeback win against Hougang United FC.

Having completed the last four games, Adam has got acquainted with life at the highest level here – where opponents are much stronger, look for the killer pass more often and the pace of the game is unrelenting.

“They were like men,” he said of their 4-0 defeat to Tampines Rovers FC on Wednesday (30 May) night. “It’s just a different level.

“I played against (Ryutaro) Megumi (who scored twice and made one assist) and he’s super quick… you have to face different types of players, big or small, and gain experience by playing against them.”

Adam’s potential had always been obvious – he captained the Geylang U-16 team and was advised by then-Singapore National Team Head Coach Bernd Stange in 2014 to go with the Young Lions for their pre-season training tour in Antalya, Turkey over a stint with Brazilian side Boavista SC.

But when you are the son of a Singapore stalwart, it can be hard to shake off that label. Thrust into the limelight during the 2013 Canon Lion City Cup, Adam was frequently sought out for interviews together with ex-Lion captain and then-NFA U16 Head Coach, Nazri Nasir.

“He’s a legend, he crossed to (V.) Sundram (Moorthy) for that bicycle kick!” he said.

Adam is “very proud” and “honoured” to be Nazri’s son, but there is no room for favouritism – Nazri has told him to be his own player.

“That’s why I am quite happy that in the SPL, they call me Adam Hakeem and not Adam Nazri!” he said. “I’d like to be out of his shadow and be a better player than him.”

He started out as a defensive midfielder before making the switch to the back-line at Geylang and it remains his favourite position, but Adam equally comfortable at the back now. Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk is someone he tries to emulate – a “perfect” defender.

“He is tall, fast, strong, calm with the ball, (his) reading of the game is superb and he is a leader,” he explained. “Those are qualities I can learn from… Having been out for four years, I’ve got to improve my technique, touches and passing as they can be quite rusty.”

Adam cites his family as his biggest motivation and strives to be a role model to his siblings, usually choosing to spend time with them at home. He enjoys FIFA and outside of football, reads “books that tell stories you can learn from”.

“Paulo Coelho and Mitch Albom are my two favourite authors,” he said. For One More Day by the latter is his favourite book and he has read it “10, 15 times”.

Adam also revealed a fascination with the ocean. “I love to go to the beach on my days off.,” he said. “I like being close to the ocean – it looks calm but can also be scary at the same time; we can apply that to life, where there are always two different perspectives to everything.”

The duality applies to his future outlook. Having graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a Business Intelligence and Analytics diploma earlier this year, Adam is already planning ahead after his National Service.

“It has always been a dream to go professional (but) I want a balance,” he said. “Simon Mignolet, Thibaut Courtois, Giorgio Chiellini, they all have degrees. Right now, I am keeping a lookout for colleges that will allow me to get both a degree and play football.”

At the moment, he hopes to play every match before he enlists in October and is eyeing a SEA Games spot in 2019. Having never represented Singapore internationally at any age-group level, donning the Lions jersey is an ambition he hopes to fulfil.

It will not be easy, but Adam has already emerged unscathed from worse – and is now standing tall again.

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