Saturday, April 20

Serbian-born Suzuki Cup hero finally hangs up his boots


Jason Dasey

INDONESIA’S new goal-scoring sensation grew up in Montenegro, Thailand’s 2014 Suzuki Cup hero hails from Switzerland, and Malaysia’s right-back once played for his hometown club of Perth Glory.

But Singapore’s Serbian-born stalwart has finally retired after a dozen years of international football and 85 caps.

At the age of 37, Fahrudin Mustafic announced this week that he was hanging up his boots after a career that saw him win two AFF Suzuki Cup titles.

And with English-born Daniel Bennett not involved in recent friendlies, Singapore no longer have any foreign-born players in their squad.

The likes of 1992 Bosnian Olympian Aleksandar Duric, English-raised John Wilkinson and Chinese-born Shi Jiayi have long retired.

Other Southeast Asian nations, meanwhile, have no shortage of naturalised talent, with names that are starkly different to their teammates.

For Indonesia, Ilija Spasojevic has netted three goals in four games since making his debut for his adopted country last year.

Charyl Chappuis, who was Thailand’s top goal scorer as they lifted the AFF title four years ago, hopes that his form with Muangthong United will earn him a return to the national side.

Pahang defender Matthew Davies is aiming for a second AFF appearance, having represented Malaysia at the 2016 tournament, and been one of the stars of the 2017 Southeast Asian Games’ silver medal-winning side.

But Fahrudin’s playing days are definitely over. After receiving a red card in Tampines Rovers’ Singapore Premier League loss at Brunei DPMM last Saturday, the utility player declared that he’d played his last competitive match.

A testimonial game will be held in his honour at the Our Tampines Hub on Oct 7: a just reward for having played more than 300 games for the club.

‘’I stepped into this amazing country when I was 20 years old and was welcomed by this club who have always treated me tremendously,” Fahrudin said via Facebook.

“Putting on the Singapore jersey was also another proud moment for me and my family. From playing against the likes of Causeway rivals Malaysia, to the likes of Liverpool, every game filled me up with many emotions and huge amounts of pride. Those memories are something that I will never forget.”

Fahrudin was a key member of an ageing Singapore side who won the Suzuki Cup for the last time in 2012. He scored the opening goal as the Lions upset Thailand 3-2 on aggregate, with his club teammate Duric – at the age of 42 – another of Singapore’s stand-out performers.

He also scored in the final as Singapore won the 2007 Suzuki Cup – again with a 3-2 victory over Thailand – which would lead to a big-money move to Indonesia’s Persija Jakarta.

Fahrudin arrived in Singapore as a 20-year-old at the start of the 2002 season. He joined Tampines Rovers as an import player, along with his friend and fellow ex-Novi Pazar youth player Sead Muratovic.

With Muratovic and Fahrudin, Tampines won consecutive S.League titles in 2004 and 2005, as well as the 2004 and 2006 Singapore Cup. With the nickname of ‘Fara’, he was given Singapore citizenship and earned his first cap against Denmark in Jan. 2006.

Never blessed for pace, Fahrudin was an aggressive midfielder in his younger days. But in recent years, he’s played primarily as a centre-back, although he is still an accurate penalty taker and capable of scoring unlikely free-kick goals from outside the area.

“Thank you, roommate for everything. You have taught me lots of things in life and football, my friend. I’ll miss you definitely after so many years of playing together in Tampines Rovers and the national team,” Thailand-based national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny said via social media.

Fahrudin’s last cap, fittingly, came against two-time world champions Argentina in June 2017 when he came off the bench in the 57th minute to face the likes of Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala in a 6-0 defeat at the Singapore National Stadium.

For many years, Fahrudin has been a mentor for junior players within Singapore football, and there is speculation that he could be looking to become a full-time coach.

“As I step into my stage of footballing career, I hope to give back to the sport that has given me everything. I hope to share my knowledge with the next generation of coaches and, hopefully, help them to surpass the heights that I have reached before at both club and country,” he said.

“It’s a goodbye for now, but definitely not the end in my football story.”

Fahrudin has four daughters and now lives over the Causeway in the Malaysian state of Johor.

Southeast Asian football will miss a man whose toughness on the pitch is only matched by his grace and humility off it.

Jason Dasey hosts Weekend Mornings on Singapore’s Money FM 89.3 and is CEO of Cockatoo Media. Twitter: @JasonDasey.