First Lion to play in Europe in 30 years

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE - David Lee davi­[email protected]

First Fandi Ah­mad, then V. Sun­dram Moor­thy, and now Sin­ga­pore has a third lo­cal-born Lion ply­ing his trade in Europe.

After a suc­cess­ful one-week trial, Ikhsan Fandi, the sec­ond son of lo­cal foot­ball leg­end Fandi, signed a two-year deal with Nor­we­gian sec­ond-tier club Rau­foss on Satur- day, mak­ing him the first Sin­ga­porean in­ter­na­tional to join a Euro­pean club in 30 years.

Sun­dram played for Swiss side FC Basel from 1988 to 1989, while Fandi was with Dutch team Gronin­gen from 1983 to 1985.

While Ikhsan, 19, will kick off his Euro­pean so­journ with a more ob­scure team away from the bright lights his fa­ther was used to, the foot­ball agent who helped bro­ker the deal told The Straits Times Rau­foss could be a use­ful spring­board to launch his ca­reer. Mr Navjot Singh Brar said: “Ikhsan fits what Rau­foss are look­ing for – a young striker with good po­ten­tial and at­ti­tude, and we ex­pect him to play and not just be a name on the squad list.”

He was con­fi­dent that if Ikhsan played well reg­u­larly, he would be tal­ent-spot­ted by a larger club.

The 1.83m, 79kg for­ward had a break­through year last year, scor­ing five times in eight games for Sin­ga­pore from Septem­ber to Novem­ber, in­clud­ing a bi­cy­cle-kick goal in the 6-1 AFF Suzuki Cup win over Ti­morLeste. He also net­ted eight times in 20 games for the Young Li­ons in the Sin­ga­pore Premier League.

Sin­ga­pore’s Ikhsan Fandi has vowed to make an im­pact in Nor­way, after sign­ing a two-year con­tract with Nor­we­gian sec­ond-tier team Rau­foss on Satur­day.

The deal, worth a few thou­sand eu­ros a month, made the 19-yearold the first lo­cal-born Sin­ga­porean in­ter­na­tional to join a Euro­pean team in 30 years, and only the third to do so after V. Sun­dram Moor­thy (FC Basel, 1988-89) and Ikhsan’s fa- ther, Fandi Ah­mad (Gronin­gen, 1983-1985).

Rau­foss head coach Chris­tian Johnsen told The Straits Times: “We de­cided to sign Ikhsan be­cause he is a good young player with a pos­i­tive men­tal­ity. We feel he has good tempo and po­ten­tial. He needs to adapt to the new en­vi­ron­ment but we have be­lief and hope that he will play many games for Rau­foss.”

De­scribed by the club’s web­site as a “ro­bust and tal­ented player” and “an ex­cit­ing sign­ing”, Ikhsan told ST: “I’m over the moon to join Rau­foss and I’m look­ing for­ward to im­prov­ing my game and physique here, and help the team with my goals and as­sists.”

He will re­turn to Sin­ga­pore for a one-week break be­fore re-join­ing his new team, who will head to Spain for pre-sea­son matches, be­fore kick­ing off the new sea­son at Nest-So­tra on March 31.

Rau­foss, who are based an 80-minute drive from Nor­way’s cap­i­tal, Oslo, are not well known in Sin­ga­pore, but they have more than a cen­tury of his­tory. They last played in the top flight in 1974 and were pro­moted to the 1. di­visjon after they won the 2. di­visjon ti­tle last sea­son. Their 2,500-seater Nammo Sta­dion has a top-grade ar­ti­fi­cial pitch and a heated in­door arena for win­ter use.

Ikhsan has rel­ished the chal­lenge – Nor­way’s sub-zero tem­per­a­tures and all – from the get-go.

He said: “The ex­pe­ri­ence was good from the first day. Rau­foss is a small and quiet com­mu­nity where ev­ery­one seems to know ev­ery­one here. I hope soon they will get to know me! The play­ers are very wel­com­ing and we get along well. Ev­ery­one here speaks English.

“The train­ing ses­sions were not dif­fi­cult, but even the warm-up was in­tense and very co­or­di­nated.

“The team usu­ally play a 4-3-3 sys­tem, which is good for me be­cause I can play in any of those po­si­tions up front. Al­though they are phys­i­cally strong, I don’t think the Nor­we­gian de­fend­ers are as huge as peo­ple think, and I’m con­fi­dent of hold­ing my own against them.

“I aim to make an im­pact here and con­tinue to im­prove in all ar­eas. I need to raise my fit­ness be­cause the game here tran­si­tions very quickly from de­fence to at­tack. If I’m play­ing on the wing, I’m also ex­pected to de­fend from the front.”

Ikhsan is not the only Fandi ply­ing his trade over­seas this year. His older brother Ir­fan is in Thai­land on a one-year deal with Thai League 2 side Bangkok Glass.

Said Fandi, the na­tional Un­der-22s coach: “I’m happy that both Ir­fan and Ikhsan are go­ing to play over­seas. I hope they get to play reg­u­lar foot­ball, im­prove and are then able to con­trib­ute more.

“Hope­fully, they can do well and in­spire other young foot­ballers here to work hard and ven­ture abroad to be­come bet­ter play­ers be­cause the more we have play­ing in strong leagues, the stronger our na­tional team will be­come.”

Ikhsan en­joyed a break­through year in 2018, scor­ing five times in eight games for Sin­ga­pore from Septem­ber to Novem­ber, in­clud­ing a bi­cy­cle-kick goal in the 6-1 AFF Cup win over Ti­mor-Leste. He also net­ted eight times in 20 games for the Young Li­ons in the Sin­ga­pore Premier League.

Johor Darul Takzim and Sin­ga­pore cap­tain Hariss Harun, who had tri­als and trained with Chi­nese Su­per League’s Shang­hai Shen­hua and Spain’s CE L’Hos­pi­talet said the move would be “good for him (Ikhsan) and Sin­ga­pore foot­ball”.

But he noted that it would take Ikhsan some time to set­tle: “It is a to­tally dif­fer­ent life. He has to get used to be­ing far from his fam­ily and friends. Play­ing in Nor­way is to­tally dif­fer­ent from play­ing in South-east Asia. He is thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away from his com­fort zone, the cul­ture and food are dif­fer­ent, and there will be ex­pec­ta­tions to live up to on the pitch.”

How­ever, he was con­fi­dent that the young­ster would be able to ride out the chal­lenge. “Ikhsan has had ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing and train­ing in Chile. He seems like a strong and de­ter­mined foot­baller with bags of po­ten­tial so I think he will do well with some good luck, good coaches and good team-mates.”

David Lee

PHOTO: COUR­TESY OF MAR­IUS MYKLESET

Ikhsan Fandi, son of lo­cal foot­ball leg­end Fandi Ah­mad, is the first Sin­ga­porean in­ter­na­tional to join a Euro­pean club in 30 years. The 19-year-old will play for Nor­we­gian sec­ond-tier club Rau­foss.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MAR­IUS MYKLESET

Ikhsan Fandi on trial with Rau­foss against top-tier Nor­we­gian club Mjon­dalen on Satur­day. He is the first lo­cal-born Sin­ga­porean in 30 years to join a Euro­pean foot­ball team.

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