Malek Awab: NSmen footballers had it easier in the past

In a recent interview, the former national footballer said that balancing National Service commitments with a professional football career can hinder a player’s progress

Most Singaporeans would be familiar with the age-old debate as to whether National Service (NS) is an obstacle to football excellence in Singapore.

While it is mandatory for every Singaporean footballer to serve the nation for two years by the time they turn 18, the lack of flexibility to train and participate in local or national matches has been said to have a negative impact on footballers.

Local football legend Malek Awab feels that footballers today are at a disadvantage having to balance NS with their professional football careers.

In an exclusive interview with Goal Singapore recently, the former Singapore international stated that it is more challenging for footballers now to develop their trade in the game due to the inflexibilities of having to juggle between serving the nation and representing their club and country.

“During my time we had to go through NS as well,” Malek recounted.

“But last time, if we were sportsmen, we would be given special priorities such as getting time off to train. Now, it’s totally different, it’s harder [to train].

“When you are at the peak of your health, at the age of 18, you are very fit, you are at your prime. But when you go to NS, you suddenly don’t play football for three months and when you come back, it’s not easy to get back to being involved.”

In June this year, LionsXII defender Shakir Hamzah was charged for being AWOL (Absent without official leave) for traveling to Pahang for an away game without prior approval of his superiors in the Singapore Police Force. The 20-year-old had to serve four days in the detention barracks as a result.

More recently, in the recent Merdeka Tournament last month, goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari had to leave the competition after only one game, having to report back to Singapore for NS issues.

Last year, it was also reported that LionsXII vice-captain Hariss Harun was called away from a match due to National Service commitments, which involved distributing water bottles at the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix.