News • January 20, 2016

Syafiq Boosted By Return To Familiar Surroundings


Written by: Shawn Lim

It is a place that holds many fond memories for Syafiq Zainal even though he has not made a return for the past six years.

After all, Toa Payoh Stadium was where Syafiq, then a bright-eyed 18-year-old, began his professional footballing career with Balestier Khalsa as a Prime League player, before he was promoted to the S.League squad.

The forward’s performances for the Tigers in his first year after making the step up was so impressive, Courts Young Lions snapped him up the next season so that he could represent the Singapore Under-23 side at the 2010 Asian Games.

Despite only scoring one goal in 16 appearances for the Young Lions in the S.League, the 1.72m tall player performed well enough to be called up to the senior developmental squad, the LionsXII, for the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL).

While he played a part in helping the LionsXII win the league title that season and the Malaysian FA Cup in 2015, Syafiq was unable to hold down a regular spot in the team because he was behind the likes of Fazrul Nawaz and later, Khairul Amri in the pecking order.

Now back at Balestier after the LionsXII were disbanded because he still has a year left on his Tigers’ contract, Syafiq freely admits that his lack of playing time affected his confidence, but hopes that a return to familiar surroundings will motivate him again.

“It is a big motivation for me to get back all the game time that I’ve lost with LionsXII,” Syafiq told the official S.League website.

“I mean, at the start of last year, I got quite a bit of game time until we won the FA Cup. Then, after the FA Cup, play a few games before I lost my playing time.

“So hopefully this year I could keep the momentum from the start to the end that I manage to get more playing time compared to last year.

“Coming back to a familiar place like Toa Payoh Stadium, the memories came flooding back to me when I stepped into the changing room and remember the ex-foreign players like Rivaldo (Costa).

“Hopefully, this can motivate me, now that I’m back as a senior S.League player.”

Balestier are one of the few clubs who have retained most of their foreign players, two of which are strikers Robert Pericic and last season’s club top scorer, Miroslav Kristic.

Even though Syafiq is under no illusion that he is facing another tough fight for a starting spot upfront, he feels that he can learn a lot from the two Croatians.

“When a foreigner comes in you can learn a lot from them. So, whatever I can learn from them I will take it,” said the Singaporean.

“I mean, they are foreigners who have loads of experience. That’s the reason why the coach bring them here. So it’s for me to learn.

“I will just do my best and prove in training. We haven’t been on the field yet, so I don’t really know how both of them play and how I can complement them. At the end of the day, I just have to work hard on myself and help the team.”

The Tigers will return to the AFC Cup for the second year running as the second-top local team after an incredible performance last season, where they were in title contention for a good part of the year.

However, the lack of championship experience in the team caused the Tigers to ultimately lose steam and finished in fourth place overall.

As someone who has a MSL and FA Cup medal in his collection, Syafiq believes that his championship-winning experience will prove to be an asset to the Tigers.

“I’ve been part of two championship-winning teams which won the MSL and FA Cup.

“So, whatever experience or tips that I have, I can input to the team and I’m more than happy to help my teammates in any way.

“Balestier were the second local highest team last year, so, I’m sure they are already good enough. But hopefully, I can boost them to greater heights.”