SINGAPORE: When Ikhsan Fandi gets picked up from matches or training sessions by his father, he gets extra lessons in how to become a more clinical striker.
The 18-year-old listens intently as Singapore’s legendary football icon Fandi Ahmad gives him tips on intelligent movement and finishing.
“On car rides home, he advises me on what I can do better in my game. Like, he talks about how to deal with defenders and knowing when to check out and when to run in,” Ikhsan told Channel NewsAsia.
“To shoot for the near post and for the far post, I have to bend (the ball), little things like that,” said the 18-year-old.
Ikhsan, together with his elder brother Irfan, will be part of the Singapore U-22 squad at the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.
And the pair would do well to apply the things they have learnt from their famous father, starting with their opening fixture against Myanmar on Monday afternoon (Aug 14).
After all, Fandi is no stranger to bringing glory to Singapore on Malaysian soil having famously led the Lions to three Malaysia league titles and five Malaysia Cups, including a memorable double in 1994.
The former FC Groningen player scored more than 50 goals for Singapore and has clinched three SEA Games silver medals and three bronze medals in his playing career.
Last October, Fandi signed a contract with the Football Association of Singapore to be the national head coach of youth, which will see him lead the 2018 Asian Games, 2019 and 2021 SEA Games teams. He is currently coaching the national U-20 side.
The SEA Games football tournament became an under-23 competition in 2001. For the 2017 edition, Malaysia has restricted the tournament to under-22 sides.
For the upcoming meet, Fandi told Channel NewsAsia he is hopeful that both Irfan and Ikhsan are ready to step up to the fore and play key roles for Singapore football at the tournament.
“The level will be higher, the pressure will be higher. But as a pair, they combine very well and they understand each other well.
"They’ve been playing together since young and I hope the presence of these two boys can spur the team to become a unit,” added the 55-year-old.
In addition to Myanmar, the Singapore U-22s will also face hosts Malaysia, Laos and Brunei in their group.
And when asked about his son’s and their teammates medal chances for the 2017 SEA Games, he said that they, together with their teammates, could defy the odds and clinch a medal in KL.
“It’s possible to win a medal, whether its gold or silver … hopefully they can spring some surprises,” said Fandi.
LIKE FATHER LIKE SON?
Since Irfan and Ikhsan first signed contracts with Chilean team Universidad Catolica in 2014, thereby signalling their intention to pursue professional football, Singaporeans have been keeping a keen eye on their development.
As sons of Singapore’s biggest footballing name, the two have been considered by many local football fans to be destined for greatness.
Head coach for the U-22 side Richard Tardy agreed and told Channel NewsAsia that both will play in his starting 11 for the SEA Games.
He also tipped them to develop and continue their professional careers at clubs beyond the S.League.
"These two players are the future of the national team," Tardy said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia. "I think it is important for them and for football in Singapore that they play overseas ... in strong leagues in Asia or in some good leagues in Europe."
Ikhsan, like his father, is a striker and Tardy describes him as a “good quality” forward whose main target is to score goals.
Ikhsan was Singapore's top scorer in their recent Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 championships qualifying campaign in Myanmar, where he scored two superb long-range strikes against Brunei in a 4-1 victory.
But Singapore failed in their quest to qualify after suffering defeats to the home side Myanmar and regional powerhouses Australia.
However, Tardy pointed out that Ikhsan must stay humble and continue to work hard to be a key player for Singapore.
“He (Ikhsan) must not talk too much to the media because sometimes when a good young player is up and coming, he is on the big page in the newspaper so we must be careful. But I think Ikhsan has his head on his shoulders,” said Tardy.
Fandi echoed the sentiments, describing Ikhsan as a forward who is “technically very strong”.
When asked if he Ikhsan can one day emulate him, Fandi said with a shrug: “I don’t know if he will be better than me but he hasn’t proven it yet.
“He needs to be more aggressive after losing ball. He needs to show that he’s there near the defenders."
IRFAN BRINGS EXPERIENCE
Unlike Ikhsan, Irfan is one of the more experienced players in the side, having featured for Singapore in the 2015 SEA Games.
The 1.86m tall centre back is also a key player for his club Home United and the senior international team.
In an international friendly 6-0 defeat to Argentina in June, Irfan started the game and successfully prevented his opposite number Pablo Dybala from scoring.
Dybala had just finished successful season at Juventus, leading the Italian side to a UEFA Champions League final.
However, Fandi is slightly worried that Irfan is coming into the SEA Games not fully refreshed having featured in over 50 appearances this season.
“I don’t know how many games he plays because sometimes I don’t see him at all. I just pity him. He needs more rest, more training (rather than games) ... to prepare for this big tournament the SEA Games,” said Fandi.
Despite Irfan’s hectic schedule, Tardy is pleased that his key defender is able to bring to the table competitive experience from playing at club level.
“He is from Home United, which has a lot of targets this year," said Tardy. "They have the S.League first, they have the FA cup and we are very happy that he played in the AFC Cup zonal finals against (Philippines’) Ceres."
FANDI'S MISSING GOLD
While Fandi has led the national team to many highs, there is one title that is missing from his cabinet - the SEA Games gold that Singapore had never won.
The last time the Lions featured in the final was in the 1989 SEA Games, when Fandi scored a superb bicycle kick goal in a 3-1 defeat to hosts Malaysia.
When asked if he desperately wants his sons to clinch that elusive gold for Singapore in the upcoming meet, Fandi insists that they must not focus too much on the prize and simply give their best.
“They musn’t think about winning and losing,” he said “I believe that if all the players do their best, I know God will take care of the rest because he is always fair.”
Fandi also revealed that he will be heading to KL to watch and give support to the team. He added that he wants to stay in the same hotel as the team.
"Hopefully I can meet them and motivate the team each time they leave before a game," he said. "Once they reach the stadium, it's not possible anymore."