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NEXT-GEN STORIES: “He used to break things at home. Now, I hope, he’ll break records on the field.”

They were once some of the top footballers of their time. But even though they may have retired, football remains in their blood. Meet these ex-internationals and their next generation of young footballers - sons and daughters of former national players who are keen to follow in the footsteps of mommy and daddy.

Local football fans will remember wing-back Imran Sahib, whose fearless runs down the flanks made him a household name in the S-League. The former Tampines Rovers, Home United and Young Lions player was also part of the Singapore team who were crowned Asean champions when they lifted the 2004 Asean Football Federation Cup.

Imran would terrorise opponents down the flanks, in both attack and defence.

Almost two decades later, Imran's son, Muhammad Aryan Sahib, is showing the same speed and marauding runs on the wings that are characteristic of Imran’s style of play.

Imran's and Aryan's playing styles are mirror images of each other. Both use their speed and trickery down the flanks to get the better off their opponents. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

“I saw my dad playing in the S-League and I really wanted to follow him," said Aryan, 14. "Especially when there are fans supporting you at the stadiums, that feeling is really something."

One of the top prospects at the Lion City Sailors elite programme, Aryan, who is a student at St. Hilda's Secondary School, represents the Sailors in the Puma Youth Champions League, the top youth league in Singapore.

Aryan's love for the game started when he was just a toddler, kicking the ball around at home.

What started out as something cute, a small boy kicking a ball around the house, soon became a headache for Imran. As Aryan grew older and stronger, his kicking the ball at home resulted in some items at home being damaged.

But it was also during one of those moments that Imran started to notice his son's football skills.

Aryan represents the Lion City Sailors in the Puma Youth Champions League. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

“When I saw him kicking the ball at home, broken things aside, I noticed that he had some skills that could be nurtured," said Imran.

So he and his wife enrolled their son in JSSL Academy, before joining the Lion City Sailors Academy.

Imran recalls one incident which showed him that this boy was serious about football.

"There was one morning, I got up at 5am, only to see him all ready in his football attire, although training only starting at 10am," said Imran.

"And he was only 7 years old! I was shocked. But that's him. Great things come from hard work and perseverance, and his dedication is unbelievable. Even I did not have such levels of dedication when I was playing. I am sure that will make him go very far in and outside of football.”

But while he son showed promise from very early on, it wasn't always smooth sailing. Because of his slight frame, Aryan isn't the tallest and strongest of players, he often felt he was an a disadvantage.

When he was 12 years old, he was only 138cm tall. He would frequently confide in his parents about his struggles, like being "too small" and losing games.

Aryan shared how, during one game, he played poorly against the Singapore Sports School and he was feeling very down.

Imran, who never saw Aryan that distraught before, pulled his son aside and told him that winning and losing is part of the game.

Said Imran: "I told him you must take it setbacks positively to be better.”

Aryan's talent also saw him being selected for the Under-14 National Development Centre squad, a collection of the country’s best young talents under the Unleash The Roar! national football programme.

Imran admires Aryan's dedication to football. Despite his slight frame, Aryan is determined to overcome it with hard work. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng

He has shot up 10cms in a couple years but what he still lacks in height, he makes up in his attitude to the game.

When asked about what sets him apart from other young players, Aryan said: “Being diligent and tenacious in anything. I do I might not be the best, but if I keep trying, I know I can get there.”

Said Imran: "He used to break things at home. Now, I hope, he’ll break records on the field."

Story by Mas Hidayat

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