Fit-again Mahathir Azeman ready for big year ahead

Singapore starlet Mahathir Azeman shares about his experiences playing in Brazil and his aspirations for the 2016 S.League season.

GOALBY    ZAIXIANG


He first made the news in 2011 when he was part of the Singapore NFA U15 side that finished 3rd in the Lion City Cup.

His star shone even brighter when it was made known that he would embark on a six-month stint in Brazil with Boavista.

Mahathir Azeman took his opportunity well and his contract was subsequently extended by one year.

These days, he is back in Singapore serving national service with the Singapore Police Force.

In an exclusive interview with Goal, he shared about his experiences in Brazil and his plans for the future.

Missing out on the 2015 SEA Games

While Mahathir has experienced the highs of being a footballer after being placed in the spotlight during the Lion City Cup and his stint with Boavista, he has had some lows as well.

At the start of last year, he suffered a complete tear on his right knee’s anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) while training with S.League side Balestier Khalsa.

That injury ruled him out of the 2015 SEA Games on home soil and prevented him from making his S.League debut last season.

Mahathir only played his first competitive match after nine months and has now joined Home United for the upcoming season.

About missing out on the SEA Games, Mahathir told Goal: “I felt sad but I reminded myself that my time will come and to just focus on rehabilitation.

“During that difficult period, my family, friends and teammates helped me by cheering me up and giving words of encouragement.

“I will definitely work harder for what’s coming ahead for me.”

National Service commitments

The 19-year-old enlisted last year and will only be completing his full-time national service in 2017.

National service has proven to be a stumbling block for many young footballers in the past, but Mahathir is determined to overcome this latest challenge.

“About national service affecting my football development, I think it all comes down to each individual at the end of the day and I believe that I can overcome this obstacle,” explained Mahathir.

“I have to think positive and continue to be very passionate.

“With the support and understanding from my NS department that I’m working with, I hope that I will be able to continue playing more games and attending more trainings.”

Life in Brazil

Mahathir, who confessed that his preferred position on the pitch was the famed number 10 role, found his stint with Boavista tough at times, but soon adapted to life there.

“For the first six months in Brazil, I was grouped with the U-17 team which consisted of boys my age,” he said.

“Even though they were stronger and faster, I could still cope as I trained more with them.

“After signing a one--year contract extension with their U21 team at the age of 18, I was the youngest in the team.

“I had to do my own physical training like jogging and going to the gym for the first three months before I was deemed ready to join the team.

“It was a step up for me as the intensity was higher and everyone was much bigger but overall, I thought I managed quite well.”

The former Siglap Secondary School student admitted that language was a barrier initially but with help from a tutor, his command of Portuguese soon improved.

Being so far away from home, Mahathir surprisingly did not feel as lonely as he thought he would be.

He told Goal: “I stayed with a foster family which really cared for me and the people there were very friendly with smiles everywhere.

“A few of my teammates were a huge help too and they would bring me out to the beach to just relax and enjoy the sports Brazilians usually play like footvolley and surfing.”

Mahathir hopes to return to Boavista upon completion of his National Service and the club has told him that the door will still be open for him to re-join the team.

While he has already made history by becoming the first Singaporean footballer to play in Brazil, he is not thinking about a national team call-up just yet and is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.

“I hope it would be a breakthrough year for me in the S.League,” he added.

“It would be great to get a call-up to the national squad, but I think I’m still young and have a lot more to learn.”

The maturity and drive that Mahathir has shown towards pursuing his football career belies his tender age and next season, S.League supporters will get a first-hand experience of how much he has improved since he first burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old.