Just hours after clinching the Young Player of the Year at the S.League Awards Night 2016, Hougang United midfielder M. Anumanthan was at Changi Airport Terminal 3 where he and his national teammates were ready to depart for Doha, Qatar for a training camp.

His teammates, coaching and backroom officials and well-wishers were quick to extend their congratulations and the 22-year-old was visibly surprised and shy by the attention he had garnered.

“Honestly, I feel very happy because the award was one of my targets for the year and I am honoured to be able to achieve it. This is big motivation for me to do better in the future,” Anu said.

The young talent is however quick to thank the coaches and backroom staff who have helped him progress as a footballer over the years.

“I came through the NFA (National Football Academy) setup and am thankful to the coaches and backroom staff who have guided and mentored me along the way.”

“I am also grateful to Coach Bala (K. Balagumaran), and the staff and teammates from Hougang United FC and very importantly, my very close friend and teammate Iqbal (Hussain) for helping me achieve what I would consider as my best season so far. Since meeting Iqbal when I was 15 years old, we have been challenging and motivating ourselves towards different targets every year. We have been roommates for the past seven years and we are always discussing ways to push ourselves and raise our standards to the next level.”

“Iqbal is really a nice and genuine person and he has helped in motivating me all these years.”

Speaking on their tight friendship and Anu’s gameplay, Iqbal attested to his professionalism.

“I’m very happy for Anu and he deserves the award. Over the years, he has been working really hard both on the field and in the gym. He is a true friend who is always there for me – both high and low points of my career. It’s a dream come true for both of us to be in the National Team now, and we are always motivating each other to continue to work hard and always put in our best performance for the country.”

Always looking at ways to further improve his play and become “a complete player”, Anu also thanked former National Team head coach Bernd Stange for handing him his first international cap (against Oman in an AFC Asian Cup 2015 qualifier) in August 2013, and (Young Lions) Coach Juergen Raab who helped him improve his gameplay, especially in terms of using his left foot.

On the current National Team coaching setup, Anu said: “It is a great honour to work with National Team coaches V. Sundram Moorthy and Fandi Ahmad – legends of Singapore who are recognised by people and fans in many countries. I will continue to work hard and will aspire to learn as much as I can from them and other backroom staff in the National Team setup.”

Like any other young player, Anu hopes to play overseas sometime soon, and listed the Thai Premier League as one of the professional football leagues which he would love to play in.

“From young, my aim has always been to play football overseas and I will grab any opportunity that comes by. This award serves as a platform for me to reach my goal and I will work hard to improve further and contribute more to the team on the pitch.”

Three years ago, Anu was part of the 2013 SEA Games bronze-winning team which included the likes of national vice-captain Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin, Izwan Mahbud, Hafiz Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Faritz Hameed and Gabriel Quak – all of whom are now key players for the National Team.

Many have compared Anu to Hariss, the last Singaporean to win the Young Player of the Year award back in 2010. In response, Anu humbly shared how he observes Hariss closely in training and matches and picks up a pointer or two from someone whom he describes as a “fantastic Singaporean player”. The graduate of Republic Polytechnic adds that watching other players like Izzdin and Safuwan “has been immensely helpful” and that these players “play an important role in aiding” his improvements every day.

In addition, Anu also expressed deep respect for senior players such as Daniel Bennett and Fahrudin Mustafic.

“Daniel and Fahrudin are very professional players who take things seriously and I am thankful to have them constantly motivating and guiding young players like me. Even though they are in their mid and late 30s, they are able to handle the intensity of training and matches at the national level well. Some may question why they are called up at their age but what they do not see is how strong and professional they are as footballers. They have shown that age is just a number.”

Likewise, Fahrudin affirmed the dedication of the rising star and his high hopes for him.

“Yes I have high hopes for him. Anu is a very hardworking fighter on the pitch who possesses a strong and positive attitude. When I was younger, I too played in his position and I know how difficult it is. So for a player his age, his performance is outstanding and he is definitely befitting of the award. In fact, his level of performance is so good that I believe he is very near to becoming the first XI in the National Team. It is exciting to see how well he will perform in the future,” said the two-time winner of the AFF Championship.

Notwithstanding the strong camaraderie in the squad, competitiveness on the pitch is visible as every player seeks to prove their worth not only to be in the final 23-man squad for the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup but in the first XI.

“There is competition in the National Team and it’s business every day when it comes to the pitch, where we have to set aside sentiment and fight for our spot. At the same time, we are also teammates so teamwork is also crucial for us to win a game together,” Anu noted.

Nevertheless, the tough tackler concluded with a smile: “We have a united team with no barriers and we are capable of taking on any other sides in the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup. If given the opportunity, I will do my best for the team. We are raring to go and we have confidence that we will deliver.”

Report & photo courtesy of FAS

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