Making a name for himself, carrying on the family legacy: 19-year-old Ilhan Fandi a revelation for Albirex
Since his transfer, the teenager has scored 12 goals in 11 games. But for Ilhan, it's team before self.
SINGAPORE: Ask Ilhan Fandi how many goals he’s bagged this season, and his answer is a telling one.
“To be honest, I don't know,” he told CNA after a training session on Thursday (Aug 25).
For the 19-year-old, the team’s goals matter more than his own.
“Football is a team sport and whatever I do, I have to put the team first before me,” said Ilhan, who has scored 14 times in the Singapore Premier League this season.
He is currently the top Singapore goal scorer in the league, with Albirex Niigata teammate Kodai Tanaka leading the charts with 24 goals, tied for overall first with Tampines Rovers' Boris Kopitovic.
“Me scoring is a personal goal, but it's for the team. Because these players - they help me get the goals and I thank them for that.”
Ever since his April transfer to Albirex, Ilhan has been in a rich vein of form. He’s made 11 appearances for the Japanese side, netting 12 times. His other two league goals came during his time at Young Lions.
“I didn't expect that ... But I still have a lot of room for improvement and still learning day in day out, trying to get it right,” he said.
With Albirex currently in second spot, three points behind defending champions and league leaders Lion City Sailors, wresting back the league title is the priority, noted Ilhan.
“I think with the players we have, we can do it. Everyone's been working really hard and if I could just put all my goals aside just for the league title, I would,” said Ilhan.
“I'm really happy with my time here in Albirex, I hope we continue to do well and most importantly, we have to win the league.”
THRIVING UNDER PRESSURE
Given the success of his father Fandi Ahmad, as well as his older brothers Irfan and Ikhsan, carrying on the family’s footballing legacy undoubtedly comes with the weight of expectations.
But Ilhan is not worried.
“I actually like the pressure. Because I think pressure makes me do even better. If there's no pressure, I'll just be chilling, happy with my own performance,” he explained.
Ilhan uses pressure to spur him on. And when there is negativity, he tries to turn that into motivation instead.
“Proving people wrong is nice; it’s a nice feeling. You have to rise to the occasion and try and do well. That’s what I want to do,” he explained.
“I want to try and make a name for myself but also carry the Fandi Ahmad family name. And do him proud, do my mum, my dad and my whole family (proud given) what they've sacrificed for me,” he said.
Both Irfan and Ikhsan have established themselves as key players for club and country.
The brothers, 25 and 23 respectively, who both play for top-tier Thai side BG Pathum United, most recently became the first Singaporeans to reach the Asian Champions League quarter-finals.
“(I want to) just continue to bring the family name up. Ikhsan, Irfan have been doing it well, so I just want to continue to do that as well.”
And Ikhsan, who is a striker, is one of the people Ilhan turns to for advice. “He tries to watch me or he watches the highlights and things like that. I will say: 'Ix, how was my running today ... how can I improve?'” Ilhan explained.
In an international friendly against Malaysia in March, Irfan and Ikhsan started for Singapore, with the latter scoring twice. Later in the game, Ilhan came off the bench to play up front with Ikhsan.
Being able to don the Lions’ jersey together has been something the two used to discuss as kids, Ilhan said.
“Even before I got to the national team, (Ikhsan would say): ‘Ilhan if you get to the national team, imagine I partnered you and things like that’,” he explained.
For now, Ilhan has set his sights on getting more minutes and starting consistently for the Lions.
“My goal is to play for the national team obviously, maybe partner Ikhsan up top, we don’t know. I know it will be a tough challenge to battle with him for the striker’s position. But I know brothers are brothers, but on the pitch, we have to fight for our own spots," noted Ilhan.
OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE
The move to Albirex was one that Ilhan thought long and hard about. But at the end of the day, it was the “best option”, he explained.
“I wanted to try to test myself and get out of my comfort zone because I just felt I was a bit too comfortable at Young Lions. So I needed a new challenge. And I thought Albirex, the interest they showed in me and what they wanted to do and how they wanted to help me, matched what I wanted to do,” he explained.
Given that he hopes to one day play abroad, learning how to adapt to a new environment was important for Ilhan.
“If I go to Europe or anywhere in the world, it will be sort of similar because I'm not familiar with the surroundings and things like that,” he explained.
But despite the new surrounds, Ilhan has been embraced with open arms during his time with the White Swans.
“I've been enjoying my time here, couldn't ask for more. And the players ... since day one, they've been so welcoming and welcomed me like I'm part of the family. Since then, I've been clicking with everyone,” he noted.
“I think what you do off the pitch also affects what you do on the pitch.”
Ilhan believes that he has grown as a footballer and as a professional during his short time with the club so far.
“(Being here) has helped me with adding some areas which I didn't think I had - like the running in behind. I was too stagnant, just wanting the ball to my feet but now I'm changing up a bit, things like that. Knowing the striker’s role a bit more,” he said.
“I've been working on these curved runs. I'm not used to that ... Nowadays I’m mixing it up a bit - runs in behind and dropping deep. Those types of things. And I think it's been working really well for me, but still a lot to go.”
While scoring goals is important, Ilhan is focused on turning in good performances.
Take his masterful hat-trick against Balestier Khalsa earlier this season - which included an acrobatic bicycle kick. Most would have been satisfied with the match ball, but not Ilhan.
“I was just really happy to get my hat-trick and things like that, but at the same time I just felt that game - yes I scored a hat-trick, but my performance wasn't up to (the) mark - I could have got a bit more and things like that,’ he explained.
“If you look at all the top players, until now they're still learning. So that's what I want to do and keep on, keep on, keep on trying my best to learn from all these players and learn from everyone.”
And so, it is this pursuit of excellence that continues to spur Ilhan on.
Said the youngster: "I’m glad it has turned out well for me. They've all helped me - from the backroom staff to the players - everyone's been so supportive (including) the fans you know?
"It just gives me extra motivation to try and do well for Albirex Niigata and myself and my family."