For most professional footballers, it’s the lure of money, fame or glory that draws them into the beautiful game.
Not so for 22-year-old Hafiz Sujad, who’s doing it in his late father’s honour.
“[This is] especially [because] for my mother, as me being a footballer for her is like seeing my dad,” Hafiz shared with UrbanWire.
“So, sometimes, I feel the pressure to step up for him.”
His father, Abu Sujad, was instrumental in igniting his love for football, as a 6-year-old Hafiz would enthusiastically tag along while he coached amateur players as a part-time job. It was through these trainings that the young footballer got hooked on the sport.
If it wasn’t for this, the young central midfielder wouldn’t be where he is today: The LionsXII, which is the Singaporean representative in the Malaysian Super League(MSL).
Unfortunately, 4 years later, tragedy struck when his father lost a battle with liver cancer.
“At that time, I was very young, so I didn’t know how bad it was. But slowly, I began to realise what it meant,” he said calmly. “[Now], when I’m feeling down in football, it gives me the extra motivation to push myself.”
Well, looking down from above, the senior Sujad has every reason to be proud of his son.
After rising through the ranks of the youth setups of the National Football Academy (NFA), the former Courts Young Lions captain has progressed to one of the top teams in Singapore – the LionsXII.
Robin Chitrakar, his previous coach at the Courts Young Lions, had nothing but praise for him. He told UrbanWire: “He’s got the potential, and leads by example as seen in the previous season. It’s definitely a good step up for him.”
“Definitely, Hafiz is one player to watch (out for in the future),” he added.
Sazali Abdul Aziz, a sports journalist from The New Paper who has been covering the S-League since 2006, said: “Actually, I’m very surprised that he hasn’t been a regular in the national team.”
“He has the look of a top football player, on a local sense. He has good touch, excellent control, and is physically ready. If he gets the chance, I’m sure he will make a name for himself.”
Hafiz too is also looking forward to embarking on his MSL journey, which will kick off on Jan 9.
He said, “Playing in the foreign leagues always gives us a lot of good experience, and it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I’m looking forward to the new level of play… bottom line, it’s also to prepare myself for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games next year. After all, it will be my last chance (due to the under 23 years-old age restriction).”
“Still, I know I have to fight, as I’m very new to the team.”
Indeed, underneath his shy and conservative shell, lies a real fighter. Time and time again, the Lion City Cup medallist has fought tooth and nail to keep his career on track.
That began when Hafiz, then aged 14, along with then schoolmate and friend Hariss Harun, was roped into the NFA U15 squad led by former LionsXII assistant-coach Kadir Yahya after attending their trials.
However, 2 years later, the former St Gabriel’s Secondary School student struggled with his GCE ‘O’ Level Examination preparations, which affected his football commitment.
He was forced to take a short hiatus, before rejoining the NFA U17 team after a stint at Balestier Khalsa that lasted a few weeks.
Fortunately, Hafiz did well and enrolled for Nanyang Polytechnic’s Sports and Wellness Management Diploma, and he certainly had a good time.
“After entering Poly, I enjoyed myself. The timetable meant that there were morning classes on some days, [but in overall] it’s manageable, if you are disciplined and know what you want.”
Still, when asked about his final results, Hafiz simply smiled and replied with a sheepish “Okay only lah”.
That said, his next setback would come in 2009, when he missed out on a SEA Games squad place due to a bad shoulder injury, which also caused him to be left out from a good chunk of the season.
He said: “It would have been my first SEA Games, and the players who went won a bronze. It was disappointing, as I really wanted to go and win something. It was really hard luck.”
Despite this, there was one thing that kept Hafiz going: his passion for the game, which he feels comes from his family’s illustrious history of footballers.
His father used to represent the old Singapore Malays Football Association Team, and his uncle, Mohd Noh Hussein, was a former international player in the 1970s.
His brother Nadzi Sujad was a former Balestier Khalsa player, while his sister, Nurhafizah Sujad, is the current national team’s physiotherapist. Finally, his cousin is none other than local football legend, Fandi Ahmad.
“Maybe it runs in the blood,” Hafiz said, with a grin.
“When you look up to these people play soccer, it naturally took over me, and gave me that passion.”
Fast forward to today, and that passion has certainly translated into a reality.
It’s been an eventful year for the 2012 S-League Young Player of the Year award nominee, as he took over the Courts Young Lions captaincy from local football hero Hariss.
Yes, the 2 friends were nurtured in the fields of St Gabriel’s Secondary School, moulded in the S-League at the Courts Young Lions, and are now teammates at the LionsXII.
“Now, he’s one of the best midfielders in his age in Singapore, and even though we are of the same age, his level is much higher than me,” said Hafiz. “I mean, sometimes I look up to him. We’ve been playing together since secondary school, and I try to take in the good things from him.”
Another highlight of his year was when he received his first national team call-up for an international friendly against India.
Although Hafiz’s first international appearance was limited to just a few minutes as a substitute, he felt that the experience was invaluable.
The Liverpool fan said: “You could see how the top level of players train, what they do on and off the field, and how Coach Raddy (Radojko Avramovic) prepared them for games and trainings. It was something very new for me.”
While Hafiz didn’t manage to break into this year’s AFF Suzuki Cup squad, he recognises that he still has some way to go.
He said, “Obviously, there was a bit of disappointment, but it’s not that bad. I know there’s a lot more to work on before reaching the Nationals consistently.”
As Hafiz embarks on a new chapter of his footballing career, you can expect that he’ll be giving nothing less than 100%.
He said, “For me, it’s all about working hard, and achieving the goals in my life. I don’t expect anything much, but every day, I just have to be diligent.”