News Singapore Premier League • April 10, 2018
Prakash Raj, the Young Lion who lives and breathes football
Full-back’s dedication to the sport sees him do extra training on his own, spend his free time learning from videos of world-class players in his position, which has helped him break through for his debut this year
Prakash Raj in action for Young Lions against Warriors FC.
SINGAPORE, 10 APRIL 2018 – Young Lions defender Prakash Raj, all 1.73 metres and 60 kg of him, is the embodiment of hard work.
It is what helped him to bounce back from barely featuring during pre-tournament preparations to starting all of Singapore’s matches in the 2013 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Under-16 Youth Championship.
It is also what saw him come back from the disappointment of not making the National U-23 squad to face Indonesia earlier this year, to making the starting line-up for both of Young Lions’ matches in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) so far this season.
It is because, he says, no player likes to be left out and he wants to prove something, to be “somebody” one day.
So five years ago, when he was “way down the pecking order” due to a lack of physicality, the right-back started to hit the gym religiously thrice a week on his own, with active recovery activities like swimming and jogging on weekends.
“Yeah,” he responds when asked whether that habit is still ongoing because even though now he is stronger, he feels he can be “stronger still”.
“And after training, I’ll stay back to do some technique work like crossing, shooting and long passing,” adds Prakash, who turns 20 in June. “Because one of my idols is David Beckham – this guy really taught me that practice really makes perfect. The accuracy of his crosses is insane because even though he comes earliest for training, he leaves the last.
“In my position, crossing is really important so I always work on my crosses after training and sometimes when I go training earlier, I will do that also.”
The hard work is also manifested in the research he does. Prakash studied ways to improve his physique and cited Cristiano Ronaldo’s transformation in his six years at Manchester United as an inspiration.
He watches football matches and videos to learn from world-class players in his position like Dani Alves – the complete full-back for him – and Antonio Valencia and Kyle Walker and more.
“My father also regularly motivates me to work hard and we watch matches at night together where he will tell me to observe the players of both teams and how they play, be it full-backs or wingers,” he added.
Opponents are scrutinised too. “I think it’s important to study your opponent,” he said. “I watched how Warriors FC played against Geylang (International FC) so that really gave me a rough idea of how to play against them individually (when we played them last Saturday).”
Prakash (right) in action during his NFA Under-18 days (Photo courtesy of Prakash)
Hard work “takes time” to pay off and Prakash has reaped the dividends this season. His professional debut came last Wednesday in a 2-0 win against Hougang, before he retained his starting spot in a 1-0 victory over Warriors three days ago.
He took a detour to get to the Young Lions, spending last season at Hougang United FC’s Prime League side after graduating from the National Football Academy (NFA, now FAS Football Academy or FFA). At the Cheetahs, he gained invaluable experience from his coach, Robin Chitrakar and National Team wing-back Nazrul Nazari.
“Coach really pushed and improved me as a player on and off the pitch,” Prakash said. “He made me realise what a professional has to be like, so I took every (bit of) advice from him and improved my game.
“Nazrul taught me a few tips, in terms of decision making and understanding the position. I am more of an attacking full-back but the coaches have told me I need to work on my defending, so I’m improving my focus and understanding of the position.”
Getting the call from Fandi Ahmad to join the Young Lions for this year is the highlight of Prakash’s career, who dons the number 21.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s an honour to play under a legend.”
He points to the “Fandi effect” as one reason the Young Lions have taken maximum points from their first two games and sit top of the SPL table.
“Even though there are only 11 players on the pitch and 18 involved on match-day, everyone gives their all in every training session,” he explained.
“Coach Fandi always tells us that no one is guaranteed a spot, so we have to keep on fighting to show him that we deserve to be in the first eleven.”
The coaching staff, including Assistant Coaches Nazri Nasir and S. Subramani, and Fitness Coach Aleksandar Bozenko have been “incredible” and helped to foster an indomitable team spirit.
“We don’t have separate cliques or age groups, we really are a team on and off the pitch,” Prakash pointed out. “Sometimes after morning trainings, we will have a meal and the whole team will turn up.
“Everyone likes to be around each other, there are no grudges, no negative energy, it’s all positive vibes.”
Hard work is an important tenet for Prakash and has helped him recover from set-backs
MORE TO COME
It may be only two games into the campaign but there is a real sense of belief within this team that this good form can become the norm.
“We have the drive, we have the momentum, we have the two wins now, so I feel that we really can do something this season,” he said. “We can defy the odds and we can also prove others wrong.
“Our main goal for this year would be the Asian Games, and the ultimate goal is the SEA Games… this kind of long-term thinking makes us more motivated to perform locally. If we can do that, I think we will be able to give a good fight on the international stage.”
It appears that the decision to choose football over badminton in primary school has worked out well for Prakash, an only child who picked up the sport at four under the influence of his cousins, who were both playing in Tanjong Pagar United’s youth teams.
But there will be no resting on laurels for Prakash, who is currently interning at the FAS Football Science and Medicine Department as part of his Year 3 Diploma in Sports and Exercise Sciences course at Republic Polytechnic.
“I feel like my hard work is paying off (now) but I keep telling myself I can improve – I am still young and learning, I still have higher goals to attain,” he asserted.
“I’m on the right path but this is not the end; this is just a stepping stone to where I want to be, which is to wear the national colours and be somebody.”