By Nicholas Yeo
A recent article ‘Fandi’s unhappy, but holds out hope for a national job’ in TODAY (Jan 31) has brought light to the financial plight of Singapore’s most iconic footballing icon, Fandi Ahmad, a man that led a nation with his own two feet.
In a country where soccer is the only sport Singaporeans can claim to be somewhat ‘religious’ about, it is despairing to see the demise of someone who is arguably a national treasure in his own right, and in my opinion, the last great Singaporean icon in recent time, whether he was on or off the pitch.
History & Success
Fandi is without a doubt the most recognized local footballer of any generation. He was and still is to many Singaporeans what Pele is to Brazil, Maradona is to Argentina or Nakata is to Calvin Klein.
Fandi was the first ever-local sportsperson to earn a million dollars in 1993 and was also the youngest National football debutant in 1980 at age 16, a record held till 2007. After blips of success with trials at Ajax and a stint at FC Groningen, Fandi made his prodigal return when he captained Singapore to victory at the 1994 Malaysia Cup with a ‘Dream Team’ that included stalwarts like V.Sundramooty, Steven Tan, Malek Awab and Abbas Saad.
He was the epitome of humility and had everyone, sponsors and fans alike, clamouring to get a piece of him. He commanded respect on and off the pitch and was a constant role-model for many young kids, myself included, in the constant fight against vices like smoking in the ‘Too Tuff to Puff’ campaign.
In the heydays of the Malaysia Cup, he offered hope for the emerging nation and together with the ‘ Dream Team’, could literally get Singaporeans of all walks of life to put any differences and work aside for 90 minutes of pure intense footballing action. Fandi brought out the ‘Kampung Spirit’ in everyone and had more merit and respect than anyone could imagine.
While Nike had the ‘Be Like Mike’ centered around Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Singapore had an unofficial ‘Be Like Fandi’ campaign that was present throughout every single soccer field, basketball court or void deck.
All you needed was a ball of any size and a few good friends to participate in an aspiring dream to be like No. 17.
Fast forward and there has never been an individual that came close to Fandi.
For all the talents they possess, the careers of individuals like Ahmad Latiff and Nor Alam Shah were constantly surrounded by controversy related to violence and misconduct.
The state of the S.League hasn’t helped and many people have often questioned why Fandi has never been brought in to help beyond being an assistant coach to Raddy Abramovich back in 2005/2006, especially after the recent resignation of the Deputy CEO Mr Johan Gouttefangeas upon allegations of undisclosed bankruptcy back in France.
Financially, Fandi may not have been the most sound of individuals in setting up businesses, an issue that some say should be considered before giving too much sympathy. He was after all the first ever millionaire sportsman and was living the high life while coaching in Jakarta.
Yet for all the troubles, Fandi still found time to try and give back to Singapore and even recently set up the Fandi Ahmad Academy to promote local soccer, but as always the case was forced to leave after having $150,000 in salary unpaid.
Now a technical director across the causeway at Johor F.C, Fandi’s plight has a lot of people talking especially after our recent foray back into the Malaysia Cup that was meant to revive the Kallang Roar and local soccer fraternity.
With a proven track record, and more admiration than any politician can ever rally at a General Election, it is hard to see why the FAS does not even consider Fandi for a directorial post in the committee that has been plagued with one issue after another.
Here is a man that led a nation by himself with his boyish smile, a man that fed off the Kallang Roar, a man that packed 80,000 into the National Stadium, and a man that inspired a nation with his own two feet.
There will never be another Fandi Ahmad, and the idea of a ‘Dream Team’ while remain nothing more than a dream itself.