Voices From The Ground: Hougang United vs Albirex Niigata (S) - What The Players Think

Nazrul celebrating in spectacular fashion after scoring a last gasp equalizer against Myanmar last month.
Photo: Eric Teo

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground: Our writer caught up with Hougang United / Singapore international winger Nazrul Nazari for his thoughts after the League Cup match against Albirex Niigata (S) last Friday.

Chris (C): You began your career in 2009 with the Young Lions and continued with the LionsXII. Hougang United is your 3rd club. How do you like it here?

Nazrul Nazari (N): It’s wonderful and I am honored to be here. No matter where I am, I'm happy to contribute to the development and promotion of the local league. I am also happy to play for the national team and to bring the lessons i learnt back to the club.

C: You didn’t find the net last season. This year, you found the net for Singapore against Myanmar. The double you scored against Home United Football Club was also memorable. How did it feel to break the duck?

N: It’s good to get into scoring positions and actually score. I am happy to have made improvements from last season. I am learning a lot in terms of how I should train and play. Who knows, I may be able to score more than 3 goals this season!

C: Your trickery in the Singapore Sports Hub against Argentina excited tens of thousands of Singaporeans. Many have said that you were the most effective offensive player for Singapore that night. It must have been a great honour to have that praise against the secnd ranked team in the world. What was going through your head when you went for it?

N: It was a great opportunity for me to play against them to improve my game. It was also a good spectacle for the nation. It’s a balancing act between our team and their team. We tried to figure out what they can do and what we can’t and we tried to minimize their possession of the ball.

C:You also performed a wonderful piece of trickery against the illustrious opponents. Did you plan for it or was it spontaneous?

N: It was not planned, two Argentine players were coming for me and I had no choice but to try my luck. When it worked out, it was a great confidence booster.

C: You love bowling. Bowling requires a specific stance, just like taking shots and passes for football. Do you think bowling helped you as a footballer?

N: Perhaps the way we stand before we pin? It’s for fun and there's no real connection. There’s something to be learnt in terms of comparing basketball and football though. In both sports, there’s man-marking. Basketball is often a one-onone type of game-play and it’s remarkably similar to how we mark opponents in a football set-piece situation. That being said, it was a long time since I last played basketball.

C: To avoid injuries? After all, football is your job.

N: (Nods) Indeed.

C: In an earlier interview with FourFourTwo, you spoke frequently about your size. Three years have passed and right now, do you think that your size is more of an advantage or disadvantage?

N: There are pros and cons. For example, during set piece situations, it’s hard for me to reach the ball with my head. It’s the same whether we are attacking or defending. That being said, I am agile and capable of making sharp turns. I also enjoy my speed. With training, i am able to overcome the disadvantage.

C: (Laughs) As long as they are not asking you to play as a center-half alongside (Atsushi) Shirota.

N: (Shocked, then laughs heartily) That will be a big headache!

C: Fairoz Hasan, the guy who gave you the nickname Toyol, was the match winner last week. You guys go back a long way. How strong is the bond with the dressing room and the fans?

N: I know Fairoz very well, since my days with the Young Lions, in fact. He was serving his National Service back then. I am glad to have reunited with him at Hougang United as we are good friends and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. As for the rest of the club, we build our bond in the changing room before and after games. We also head for meals after training.

C: You mentioned that you are an IT geek. If you could create any app for the S.League, what would it be?

N: Maybe a way to measure in game / training statistics? Or maybe a way to look at our dominant / less dominant legs? It can also be used to track the distance covered.

C: Now you've been deployed in several positions like full-back, right back and a right winger. Do you feel that it is good or bad to be versatile?

N: I am not fussy about it. I can play anywhere on the right. If you are a fullback, you will still overlap and track back. It’s a normal situation for me.

C: The Singapore National Team had a month to forget in June, losing to both Chinese Taipei and Argentina. We are now ranked below Hong Kong and Myanmar. This is the second season after the LionsXII players rejoined the S.League and the Singapore Under-22 team looks promising with the likes of Zharfan Rohaizad, Irfan Fandi, Shahrin Saberin, Ikhsan Fandi, Amir Zalani and Amiruldin Asraf. Do you think we can bounce back strongly?

N: We need to improve, regardless of whether you are a young player or whether you are a member of any club. Like I said earlier, we should try to bring ideas from the national team back to the club. We also need to be more versatile and adventurous. As for the young ones, they have potential but need to do better.

C: So are you taking on a big brother role for both club and country?

N: (Earnestly) Something like that.

C: Are you confident that the current batch of young players can be the spark towards a brighter Singaporean football future?

N: Well, for players like us, we might have to retire in 5 years. Youth development is of paramount importance. We need to inculcate positive values in them. They need to be shown the kind of football that’s required to do well.

C: Singaporean football seems to be in a state of flux. Older Veterans such as Baihakki (Khaizan) and Sharil (Ishak) are not really playing for the national team anymore whereas folks like Amiruldin Asraf are up and coming. They represent our future.

N: Under Raddy (Avramović)’s time, we had many foreigners representing our country as naturalised Singaporeans. We, the local boys, are stepping into their shoes. However, we don’t have their capabilities or their intensity. That being said, as we are matched against them it’s up to us to develop, improve and do well.

C: In a way, you are like the next (Daniel) Bennett or Mustafić (Fahrudin), taking on a big brother’s role for club and country. D you feelthat you are up for it?

N: Hopefully, yes. We have to improve during training and learn the dos and don’ts.

Photo: Chris Peng

C: You won the Liga Super 2013 (Malaysia Super League) and Piala FA 2015 (Malaysia FA Cup) with LionsXII, so you know how good it feels to win. Hougang has been on a great run, do you foresee bigger and better things club-wise?

N: Hopefully, we can retain our good form and do well. It will be good for the team to be united and to strive to win a title. That’s also the aim of our coach. We want to fulfill his dream. That being said, of course we are hoping to achieve even greater things. Playing and beating our recent opponents proved to the fans that we can match them in terms of capability and style. That was some excellent exposure for the club and our players!

C: I do know that the Hougang Fans are yearning for an AFC Cup spot. That’s not impossible as Albirex isn’t eligible. Home United, Tampines Rovers and Warriors are ahead but Hougang still has a shout for it. Will that spot count as a piece of silverware?

N: Before the season began, we were each given a piece of paper and told to jot down our aims for the season. Everyone aimed for something different. Whether it’s the Singapore Cup, League Cup, S.League or an AFC spot, all of these goals are within our sight. It’s good for us to aim to win something. If we can win the League Cup, it will be a nice achievement for Hougang.

C: So you would value a piece of silverware over an AFC Cup spot.

N: Something like that!

C: Well, if you win the Singapore Cup, you will get to play in the AFC Cup.

N: (Beams): That will be a double bonus! That being said, i think it’s very important to listen to the coach and to progress.

C: You are a hardcore Arsenal Fan, how was it like facing them two years ago?

N: I had goosebumps! I was dumbstruck and didn’t know what to say as they are my heroes. It was a great opportunity to learn from them.

C: Of course, during the match, you had to be professional. The match ended 4-0.

N: It’s a different level altogether. They are an English Premier League team after all.

C: Which also reminds you of your experience of playing top level opposition like the Argentina game?

N: (Smiles and nods)

C: Last question, a simple one. After you break fast or when you need a bite,where’s your go-to place for good food?

N: I normally go back home!

C: Nice! Home cooked food is the best.

N: My wife or my mum will cook. (Nazrul revealed to our writer that he got married two years ago, congratulations!)

C: Wonderful, what if you had to eat out?

N: Something simple, for example Mcdonald's?

C: (As a foodie, I probe on): Maybe a nice prata or briyani shop nearby?

N: No, not Briyani! We do have Roti Prata or Maggi Goreng sometimes.

C: Nearby?

N: No! I stay in the west. There’s a nice ‘Mama’ shop near Jurong Polyclinic, that’s my go-to place. If it’s beyond midnight, i will go to Old Boon Lay (Place) for nasi lemak.

C: Sounds like the perfect place to go after a tiring match and an interview. Nazrul, good luck for your recuperation. The League Cup’s schedule is very demanding! I’ll see you soon.

N: Thanks!

Nazrul Nazari is a very humble and down to earth player with no airs whatsoever. As an established player for club and country, he has shown a great will to improve and a drive to help the next generation along. He’s still relatively young at 26 and will have many years ahead of him. My gut feeling tells me that he will be a key feature for both club and country for many years to come.

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