10 young players to look out for in 2021 Singapore Premier League

We take a look at the rising stars ahead of the 26th edition of the local professional league, which is set to kick off on Mar 13.

Phoon Jia Hui

Jack of all trades, master of drinking boba milk tea.

Published: 1 March 2021, 10:07 AM

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Or so the saying goes. 

Since the introduction of youth-oriented rules by the Singapore Premier League (SPL) in 2018, many budding players have made it up the ranks and established themselves in the league. 

As many as six Under-23 players have made their debuts for the Singapore national team since then. 

So, who’s going to be the young players to keep an eye out for in the 2021 SPL season, which kicks off on Mar 13? Here are 10 to look out for.

1. Saifullah Akbar (Lion City Sailors)

Who else, but the reigning SPL Young Player of the Year?

Blessed with the ability to pick out a pass, the 22-year-old playmaker, who will enter his second season with the Lion City Sailors, is one to look out for. 

En route to picking up the award last year, he scored two goals from 11 appearances. 

With the Sailors competing in the second-tier Asian Football Confederation Cup this year, Saifullah will be relishing the opportunity to pit himself against tougher opposition in the region, although he will face added competition for a spot in the starting lineup after the signings of Faris Ramli and Diego Lopes. 


2020 SPL Young Player of the Year Saifullah will play for the Lion City Sailors for the second consecutive year. PHOTO CREDIT: LION CITY SAILORS


2. Nur Adam Abdullah (Lion City Sailors)

An industrious left-sided player, 19-year-old Nur Adam has signed for Lion City Sailors where he looks to make the left-back spot his own this season.


Nur Adam is an added option on the left flank for the Lion City Sailors, who will play in three competitions this year. PHOTO CREDIT: LION CITY SAILORS


Armed with a sweet left foot, the 2018 Dollah Kassim award winner is equally adept at playing in central midfield. This should provide head coach Aurelio Vidmar with a healthy selection headache when the season gets underway.

3. Marc Ryan Tan (Tampines Rovers)

Having made to bide his time with the Young Lions over the last two seasons, Marc Ryan will look to play more in 2021 following his switch to Tampines Rovers. 

The 19-year-old, son of Malaysia Cup legend Steven Tan, is a nippy and speedy winger. With the Stags competing on three fronts this season, Marc will certainly be called into action for the club his father used to play for and coach. 

As an added bonus, he will have guidance from experienced heads like Yasir Hanapi and Baihakki Khaizan on the pitch. 


Marc Ryan (in red) will turn out for the club his father played for and coached. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUNG LIONS

4. Hami Syahin (Young Lions)

Since making his professional debut in 2016, Hami has improved by leaps and bounds and established himself as one of the classier midfielders in the country. His ability to pick out his teammates with pinpoint passes is what makes him stand out from the rest. 

Still 22, the midfielder has already played four times for the Singapore national team.


Hami will look to pull the strings in midfield for the Young Lions again this season. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUNG LIONS

5. Rusyaidi Salime (Tanjong Pagar United)

While he may stand at just 1.67m, the often dependable Rusyaidi makes up for his lack of height with his industry at right-back where he is capable of making overlapping runs to support the attack. 

Formerly of the Young Lions, the 22-year-old, who recently finished his National Service commitments, is also comfortable playing in the heart of midfield and was part of the Singapore squad which participated in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games.


Rusyaidi returns to professional football with Tanjong Pagar following the completion of his National Service commitments. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

6. Fikri Junaidi (Albirex Niigata (S))

A stocky attacker, the 1.78m tall Fikri will be hoping to take his game to the next level after joining defending champions Albirex Niigata for the upcoming campaign. 

He is no stranger to playing for a foreign side, having been sent on a six-month attachment with Tennis Borussia Berlin’s Under-17 team, who compete in the Under-17 Bundesliga, back in 2016. 

It will be the 20-year-old’s third SPL club in his career, having made his senior debut with Geylang International in 2019 and turning out for the Young Lions last season. 


Fikri could lead the line for the White Swans this season. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/ALBIREX NIIGATA FC SINGAPORE

7. Iman Hakim (Tampines Rovers)

Another Dollah Kassim award recipient to make the list, Iman has been touted as one of the up and rising talents in Singapore football in recent years. 

Showing maturity in the middle of the park, the 18-year-old spent the 2020 season with defending champions Albirex Niigata (S), where he made nine appearances. Iman was also a member of the Singapore AFF Under-18 side that travelled to Vietnam in 2019.


Iman joins the Stags after a year with defending champions Albirex. PHOTO CREDIT: FACEBOOK/TAMPINES ROVERS FOOTBALL CLUB

8. Irfan Najeeb (Tampines Rovers)

Having spent the second half of the 2020 season with the Young Lions, the tough-tackling Irfan returns to Tampines where he made his professional debut after serving his National Service.

Irfan, nephew of former Singapore captain Shahril Ishak, primarily operates as a centre-back, but has proved to be able to play at right-back too.    

During his previous spell with the Stags in 2018, the 21-year-old was a mainstay in the side with 16 appearances and two goals to his name.


Irfan (in red) returns for a second spell with Tampines. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUNG LIONS

9. Khairin Nadim (Young Lions)

The youngest of the lot, 16-year-old Khairin will continue his development with the Young Lions in 2021. 

He made history in March 2020 when he became the youngest SPL debutant at the age of 15 years and 298 days. He ended 2020 with three goals to his name. 

Capped at Under-16 level, a call-up to the senior Lions side may not be too far away if Khairin manages to fulfill his potential.


Khairin Nadim was the Young Lions’ joint-top goalscorer in 2020 with three goals. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUNG LIONS

10. Ilhan Fandi (Young Lions)

While his elder brothers Irfan and Ikhsan are making progress playing abroad, Ilhan is seeking to make waves himself closer to home in the SPL. 

The third son of Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, Ilhan made his debut for the Young Lions in 2019 and became the youngest-ever player to score in two straight SPL games the same year.


An attacking midfielder, Ilhan Fandi (in red) can pose a threat to opposition defences. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUNG LIONS


Into his third season with the developmental side, Ilhan will be gunning for more and will be one to watch for.

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