Voices From The Ground: Balestier Khalsa vs Home United - What The Players Think

Khairul Nizam warming up for Singapore last month. Home United's Singapore internationals have had a busy campaign so far with international games, domestic matches and the AFC Cup happening concurrently.
Photo: Eric Teo

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground: I spoke with Amiruldin Asraf, Khairul Nizam and Stipe Plazibat after the game between Balestier Khalsa vs Home United. Here were their post-match thoughts.

Post-match snippets from Singapore U22 striker / 2016 Home United Prime League Top Scorer Amiruldin Asraf

Chris (C): Hi, Amiruldin, seems like both Khairul Nizam and yourself were converted from strikers to right wingers!

Amiruldin: (A): It’s a brilliant tactical move from Coach Aidil (Shahrin). I kept running at Balestier’s left back and depleted his energy and, as a result, (Khairul) Nizam was able to come on and finish the job.

C: This is deja vu. Nizam came on as a substitute for you against Hougang United as well. He was also able to score that game. So are you ready for the upcoming run of games?

A: Hopefully! Honestly it’s not one of my better matches tonight. I'm definitely looking to improve.(At this moment, Amiruldin coughs and I am concerned about him.)

C: Alamak, are you okay?

A: Actually I am down with a flu.

C: Have you seen a doctor?

A: No, actually Nizam was supposed to start tonight but he was not match-fit, so I had to deputize for him.

C: Oh I see. I won’t hold you back anymore, please go back and rest!

A: Thank you!

Post-match snippets from Singapore / Home United s Striker Khairul Nizam

Chris (C): Khairul, You have come on as a substitute twice and scored twice as well. What are your thoughts about this fantastic achievement?

Khairul Nizam (K): I am very happy to be able to play and help the team even thought we were missing some key players.

C: How do you feel about your current position as a right winger?

K: (Emphatically): I will play anywhere in the team and do whatever the Coach asks me to! It’s a great season thus far and i am delighted.

C: Home United hasn’t won the S.League title since 2003. However, there’s a large number of Singapore internationals in your squad so the bond forged for club and country must be strong. Do you foresee the team lifting some silverware this season?

K: (Smiles keenly): It’s not only me, all of us are confident that we will be able to grab some trophies.

C: You guys can also make the country proud on National Day by potentially winning the title of AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Champions. Of course, there’s plenty to do for the national team as well.

K: Indeed, it will be a great bonus if we can do it on National Day.

C: It would be a little harder to finish the tie playing away from home.

K: Yes. We will just stick to our plan and do what we need to do.

C: With the League Cup and its set of tough schedules coming up, you are not 100% fit as well.

K: (Interrupts enthusiastically) I am down with a virus and I told the Coach that I need time (to recuperate) to a hundred percent.

C: Perhaps you will be rested for the League Cup and come back all guns blazing for the AFC Cup.

K: (Looks serious): It will be good for everyone to play at least one game each. We will need everyone to be ready as anything can happen.

C: Hope to see you back soon, take care and good night!

K: Thank you!

Post match comments with the current S.League top scorer / Croatian striker Stipe Plazibat

Chris (C): Stipe, how was the pitch?

Stipe Plazibat (S): (Frowning) The pitch was not ideal. Neither were the floodlights. At certain moments, we cannot see the ball!

C: Was that perhaps why you guys couldn’t play your normal game tonight?

S: I don’t like to make excuses, but the conditions for professional football should be better.

C: Was that why you guys struggled in the first half?

S: (Exasperated) We struggled for the whole game!

C: Balestier Khalsa played a containing style of football, even when your side was a man down.

S: Yes, especially after they got their first goal. That’s their game plan and they stuck to it.

C: Your strike partner Khairul Nizam came on and scored again, despite having a virus.

S: He changed the game, he’s the man-of-the-match in my opinion.

C: It would have been unfortunate for you guys if the score stayed at 1-0, especially with arch-rivals Albirex Niigata losing.

S: We knew that even if Albirex won, we would have to win just to keep pace. Don’t forget Tampines Rovers as well, between now and the end of the season, every game is like a (Cup) final!

C: You guys must now take a break from the league and proceed on to the League Cup, is that unfortunate?

S: (Confused): No, why would it be? To be hones, we were not in great shape for this two games. The schedule has been tight, even more so for the national players. The League Cup will perhaps allow us to recuperate a little before the AFC matches. It’s a good time to give the fringe players some playing time and to rest some of the key players. We still need to keep a winning mentality as well.

C: Hopefully Hassan Sunny and Song Ui-Young will be back in time for the AFC game.

S: I'm not sure when they will be back, but it will be great (to have them back). Song’s injury isn’t as light as we thought. He will need to train even after he returns. I don’t believe that we can fully count on them (in the near future). For now, I am happy that we managed to come back from being 1-0 down relatively late in the game. In conjunction with Albirex losing, this is as good as 6 points, not 3! (Wide grin).

C: Let’s take a look at your old team. Hougang United has been on an incredible run, beating both AFC Cup regional finalists and now the all-conquering Japanese.

S: Indeed, somehow they rested a number of first-team players and still won. That’s good, that’s good (emphasizes for effect) for us especially! (Wide grin).

C: Hougang’s Spanish import and former Valencia youth player, Pablo Rodriguez, has finally broken his duck. He’s one of the big reasons why Hougang won tonight!

S: As a fellow foreign striker, i am really happy for him. He must have been under a lot of pressure!

C: To put things in perspective, you scored 15 last season and was 4th in the top scorer’s chart. You also started off this season well, scoring twice in two games but yet you still faced some criticism. Now, putting ourselves in his shoes, he's finally scored his first ever goal in the S-League after more than a third of the season gone. I can't help but think about how much criticism he must have been under.

S: Yes, even last week I was criticised for missing a shot. As foreign players, we have to learn how to handle such pressures.

C: In Singapore, we have this 'instant noodle mentality' where everyone wants quick results.

S: A lot of people haven’t played (professional) football before, they think that everything is easy. Playing football on the pitch is not the same as playing it on a Playstation console.

C: What happened to Hassan Sunny and Song serves as a good lesson. Out there on the pitch, you guys put your life and limb on the line. One bad tackle and someone could be brutally injured or even lose his life.

S: Yes, not enough people realise that. Thinking back about the Albirex match, I was deeply fearful for Hassan because he showed no signs of consciousness. Anything can happen on the pitch. Even if you train really hard like Song does, one bad tackle and he can be out for a month and a half. That’s bearable, but what if the injury lasts for six months or more? In this league, contracts generally run for 1 year. So who will really care for you other than your family? People only see the glamourous side of the game.

C: It’s the same kind of risk on pitches worldwide. Whether it’s England, Croatia, Japan or Singapore, people will risk their lives out there. The only difference is that the risk versus reward factor is different. Compared to some of the bigger leagues, you guys don’t earn as much here. That’s why I am doing this, to give you guys a voice., to give fans or non-fans alike a place to know more about your lives. Whether or not if people feel that it’s just a game.

S: It’s our livelihood, it’s how we feed our families. Especially as a foreigner, this is the only job that we have, it’s literally our life. It’s more than just a game. Maybe people should respect us a little more. That being said, I do know that respect has to be earned.

C: Yes, hopefully by giving you guys a voice, they will know more about you and respect can subsequently be obtained.

S: As players, we really respect what you guys do, especially when you are doing it pro-bono. Sharing our thoughts with the world, we appreciate it. We do know that it’s hard to be neutral as well. For example, i support Hajduk Split, a huge club in Croatia. I spent 9 years there as a youth player. Life is funny, when i made my debut in the Croatian first division, i was up against who else? Hajduk Split, it was very difficult. Even when i was playing, the club’s chants were running amok in my head.

C: We do what we do for love.

S: As footballers, we are lucky as we get to do what we love for a living, not many people can say that.

(At that moment, Stipe Plazibat and Marijan Suto get ready to depart as their bus had arrived. No, they are not leaving in a sports car. They are as humble as they get.)

I see a lot of similarities between Amiruldin Asraf and Khairul Nizam, as both converted right-wingers, they made that positional switch for the sake of their team. They also soldiered on despite their respective illnesses.

Amiruldin was also able to put personal pride aside and was happy to pave the way to Nizam’s route to goal. Likewise, Stipe Plazibat clearly feels strongly for his team mates and has a clear idea about his agenda as a foreigner in Singapore. With this evident bond, I feel that Home United is well poised to land some silverware.

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