National Teams – Age-group ● Jun 19, 2018
Shameer Aziq back in full flight for club and country
Shameer Aziq in action for Tampines Rovers FC this season in the 2018 Singapore Premier League.
SINGAPORE, 19 JUNE 2018 – Shameer Aziq admits to being surprised at his call-up to the Singapore National Under-23 squad for Wednesday’s International Friendly against Myanmar U23s – but only “a little”.
“That is because the team that was called up for the friendly against Indonesia (in March) was mostly from the Young Lions squad,” he told the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) site.
“But I knew that if I performed well for my club, I would be called up for this game.”
The quiet confidence stems from his stellar displays with Tampines Rovers this season, where Shameer has started nine of their 11 games in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) and three of their six AFC Cup matches.
Named by Fandi Ahmad as part of a 22-man team last Thursday, the 22-year-old is one of 12 non-Young Lions players in it.
It also marks a return to international age-group football for Shameer, whose last outing was for the U21s in a pair of away friendlies against China’s U21s in October 2016 that ended in 4-1 and 1-0 losses.
“It’s always an honour to put on the Singapore jersey and the whole team will definitely give our all to make sure we give a good performance against a strong Myanmar side,” he said. “A win is definitely on our mind as we are at home and hopefully the home support (at Bishan Stadium) will see us through.”
The nippy Shameer, who stands at 1.63m, added that the U21 games feel like a “long time ago” – even though it has only been one and a half years – after going through the worst period of his career.
National Service (NS) commitments meant that Shameer missed the entire 2016 league season for the Young Lions and only returned to action at the tail end of 2017, making substitute appearances in each of the Young Lions’ last six games.
“It was definitely the most difficult time for me,” he recalled. “Honestly, it wasn’t easy at all knowing that even if you perform in training, you wouldn’t be able to play the next game. Looking at them (team-mates) playing week in, week out only made things worse.
“I did have thoughts of giving up at the end of the 2016 season; I stopped going to training and started gaining a bit of weight.”
Shameer Aziq has flourished in a new wing-back role for Tampines Rovers FC this season.
LAST GASP STAG
But Shameer chose to soldier on after being reminded by his family and coaches of the sacrifices and hard work he had already put in, while he was also motivated by the opportunity to play in the 2017 SEA Games.
While he did not make it to Kuala Lumpur, it is a decision that has still turned out well for Shameer, who has proven his worth this season at Tampines – whom he signed for at the “very last minute”.
“It was the last week of January and most of the SPL teams had finalised their squads,” he said. “I had no club and was searching for one. At that point, I had just gone for trials with Balestier Khalsa FC and was training with Geylang International FC before someone from Tampines called me.”
When Shameer realised that their Head Coach was Juergen Raab, who had given him playing opportunities after the 2015 SEA Games during his spell in charge of the Young Lions that year, it was an easy decision to make.
“That was the best form I had as I scored four goals in my last four games before going to NS; I knew how he wants to play and Amirul Adli and Zulfadhmi Suzliman were already there,” he explained. “I trained for about one week with them before signing.”
The Stags’ decision to take on Shameer prevented the potential loss of a talent who made his professional debut at just 16 years and nine months old – for Hougang United FC in 2012 – and who earned his first senior cap at 18 in a 2-1 friendly win against Papua New Guinea two years later.
Shameer, who picked up the sport as a kid under the influence of his elder brother Shaheer Afiq, a former Home United FC player now with Police SA in the National Football League, spent two years at Hougang.
He then turned out for the Young Lions for the next four, without going through the National Football Academy (NFA; now FAS Football Academy or FFA, all the while playing mostly as a striker or winger.
Shameer Aziq scored his first professional goal earlier this year.
But he has caught the eye in a new right wing-back role for Tampines this season, with an injury to Shannon Stephen and the requirement to field three U23 starters combining to free up a slot in that position. It was not easy to adapt, Shameer admits, but the guidance of “two of the most experienced players in Singapore”, Daniel Bennett and Fahrudin Mustafic, has helped tremendously.
The Liverpool supporter, who looks up to Steven Gerrard and tries to emulate Trent Alexander-Arnold, has scored once and made three assists to help Tampines to their current second place.
“Looking at him playing weekly makes me admire him; to be doing what he is at his age of 19 is really inspirational,” Shameer says of Alexander-Arnold, who is in England’s World Cup squad. “For my playing style, I try to use my speed as much as I can to get up and down the pitch, and to cross whenever I can (to fashion chances).”
Football is a full-time pursuit for Shameer currently, though he is looking to study on a part-time basis in future.
He is determined to give a good account of himself if he gets on the field against Myanmar tomorrow and head to the Asian Games for a second time, if the U23s get the nod.
A return to the full Lions set-up is the slightly longer-term aim for Shameer, who turns 23 this December.
“If I keep fit and carry on playing like I am, maybe a spot in the AFF Suzuki Cup team is possible,” he said. “But that’s up to the Coach to decide – I just need to concentrate on my development and performances on the pitch, and the results will come later.”
Support the Singapore U23s at Bishan Stadium on Wednesday night, 20 June, against Myanmar! Buy tickets at www.fas.org.sg/tickets for the friendly, which kicks off at 8pm.