The naming of Irfan Fandi as one of world football’s top 40 young talents by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper has come as a surprise to the 17-year-old’s father, Singapore football icon Fandi Ahmad.
Speaking to TODAY, Mr Fandi, who is currently head coach of the LionsXII, said he hopes his eldest son will go on to become a successful and dedicated professional footballer.
Irfan was named in a list of top 40 young talents in world football, alongside five others from the Asian region: China’s Li Zhongyi, Japan’s Daisuke Sakai, South Korea’s Seo Jung-hyun, Vietnam’s Phan Thanh Hau and Daniel Da Silva from Australia.
“It came as a surprise to me,” said Mr Fandi. “I was in the (Football Association of Singapore) office yesterday and people were congratulating me. I ask them why and then only they told me the reason.
“I am sure Irfan didn’t know about it either but I will call him (in Santiago, Chile) later to speak to him.”
Irfan is said to have “a good touch”, said Mr John Duerden, one of the contributors to The Guardian’s list, titled “Next Generation 2014: 40 of the best young talents in world football”, published on Tuesday.
“As well as possessing a good touch, the 17-year-old has spent the last few months training with clubs in Chile,” wrote Mr Duerden. “This gives him the street smarts and the toughness to terrorise defences back in Asia.”
Irfan and his 15-year-old brother Ikhsan are both training with Universidad de Catolica, a club in the top tier of the Chilean league. In late July, Malaysian banking group CIMB signed a six-figure sponsorship deal to cover the duo’s living expenses, schooling and training in Chile.
“I am happy for Irfan. I hope the latest recognition will spur him on in his bid to become a top-notch professional,” said Mr Fandi. “My two sons have made so many sacrifices and they are so determined to make it big in football. They have had to endure some tough times along the way, such as missing home, missing the familiarity of friends and some hard training along the way.
“But they are doing fine, especially Irfan. The club officials told me that he has to potential to make the cut to the first team and I am keeping my fingers crossed.”
Irfan’s inclusion in the list has also been lauded by Mr Teng Wei Ken, football academy head coach at the Singapore Sports School, where he spent two years before heading to Chile.
“Despite displaying enormous talent and potential, Irfan has remained grounded and level-headed. He gets on well with his team-mates and classmates,” said Mr Teng.
“While on the National Football Academy U-16 training of Japan two years ago, opposition coaches told me that he had all the attributes to reach the top as a footballer.
“His first touch is good and he has this uncanny ability to know where the goalmouth is. His aerial ability also stands out. But he still needs to be given all the support he needs in his continued development, though the Sports School is proud of what he has achieved so far.”