How kicking a ball with wet shoes under his late dad’s supervision started Idraki Adnan’s journey to the national team
Having impressed in the Singapore Premier League this season, the electric winger earned his maiden call-up to the Singapore national football team and he wants to do his late dad proud.
As a young boy, Idraki Adnan was often brought to the beach at Sentosa.
Instead of donning beachwear like others, Idraki wore a pair of shoes completely soaked in seawater as he attempted to kick a ball time and again while his father, Adnan Abdullah, watched on. The latter came up with that idea on the basis that it is harder to perform essential football actions like kicking and dribbling, with the weight of the water acting as a form of resistance.
Those moments would go on to play a crucial part in Idraki’s development, nurturing him into the player that he is today.
It is a ritual which Idraki, 22, still practises today, but the difference is that he heads to the beach alone these days. His father had passed on in December 2019 due to cardiac arrest and his sudden death hit Idraki hard.
Describing his beloved father as a tough but loving figure who was always there to guide him and his two brothers, towards the right path in life, Idraki said it took him a while to overcome the loss. It also helped him to realise the uncertainties of life and he wants to make the late Adnan proud with his football achievements.
“I miss him a lot, but it still feels like he’s always up there watching me,” Idraki told Youthopia.
“That’s why I always keep him in my mind whenever I walk onto the pitch before a game. You never know what you had until it’s gone, that’s why I give my absolute everything for every game as if it’s going to be my last.”
It explains his infectious attitude on the field. The right winger is often amongst the most hardworking players for Hougang. He’s always chasing down loose balls, refusing to give up on lost causes. Despite playing as an attacker, Idraki also displays a penchant for the defensive side of things, always willing to track back and help out his teammates.
His athleticism and excellent fitness levels could be down to his taekwondo background – he owns a third dan black belt, earned at the age of 15. Adnan was a taekwondo instructor when he was alive and trained his sons to be proficient in that field as well.
Idraki still loves taekwondo and coaches kids thrice a week at Momentum Taekwondo – an academy founded by the late Adnan – but the pure and unbridled joy that comes with expressing himself on the field meant “football was always going to be [his] thing” from a young age.
“My dad left it to us in regards to which sport we wanted to pursue. His advice to us is to do the sport you really enjoy and can excel in, if not you’ll eventually fall off the rails,” he recalled.
“But taekwondo has helped me a big part in football as well – it not only taught me to be ultra-disciplined, but also made my legs really strong and flexible which is really needed in this sport.”
A young Idraki followed his heart as he made it into the National Football Academy (NFA) (later renamed FAS Football Academy) at 14 years old and went on to represent the nation in various age-group teams at regional competitions till he was 19.
He was also an impressive performer for Hougang as they finished a credible second in the Centre of Excellence (COE) Under-19 League in 2018 – just a point behind the now-defunct FAS Football Academy (FFA) 18.
Idraki then had to enlist for National Service (NS) in early 2019 and played for Singapore Armed Forced Sports Association (SAFSA) while serving the nation, before signing for the Young Lions last October after his operationally-ready date (ORD). He made seven appearances, four of it as a substitute, in his debut professional season, and did not exactly set the world alight with his performances.
He felt that a lack of match fitness, along with playing alongside players around the same age group, didn’t allow him to showcase his full potential.
“I didn’t play any football for a few months before my ORD, so obviously I needed some time to adjust to the intensity of the SPL,” he reflected.
“And at Young Lions, it was like back to my old days in the NFA where I’m playing with my peers without any senior players. That made it a bit tough for me and the rest.”
As he rejoined Hougang for the 2021 season, a national team call-up looked like a distant dream for the ambitious Idraki and he did not even dare to contemplate the prospect of one.
Walking into a dressing room filled with experienced campaigners like Shahril Ishak, Fabian Kwok and Nazrul Nazari, he admitted he was a little overawed and even “terrified” at times. But a heart-to-heart talk with Cheetahs head coach Clement Teo in pre-season saw a challenge set for Idraki.
“There was one time in training when he said ‘Idraki, what if we get you a training session with the national team?’ and I just laughed,” he chuckled.
“I told him it’s a dream for me and I’ll be very happy if I could be there, but I don’t believe I can make it yet. He simply replied ‘okay, we’ll make sure it happens for you’. Those words gave me a huge deal of confidence and I knew I just have to do everything to repay his faith in me.”
From there, Idraki never looked back. He made a blistering start to the season, contributing six goal involvements (four goals and two assists) in 11 games so far to help Hougang to third place in the league. The club is enjoying their best start to a season since its inception in 2011 and, perhaps, are in the race for a first major trophy.
Idraki credited that to the “incredible” bond between the players. He is especially close to Maksat Dzhakybaliev, Kaishu Yamazaki, Tomoyuki Doi and Lionel Tan – he has breakfast with them everyday after the morning training sessions, before the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures kicked in.
He also does extra shooting practices with Doi, the current SPL top scorer, and tries to learn as much as he can from the more experienced Shawal Anuar, who plays in the same position as him.
“Everyone at Hougang gets along with each other so well so it’s like a family here. That’s why you can see we really fight for each other on the pitch and are able to come back in a few games in which we were down,” he elaborated.
“I feel like I have this telepathy with Doi on the pitch – sometimes we already know where each other will be without even needing to talk or look up. The coaches always tell me to just go out to play my game and not worry about making mistakes, that’s why you can see I’m really enjoying myself.”
His impressive displays got him noticed and Clement’s promise of getting Idraki involved with the Singapore national team became reality in March, when he was invited to a centralised training session with the Lions. Then came the official call up last month, as he was among 26 players named in the Singapore squad for the FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers.
“I was obviously in shock when I first received the news. I knew I’ve a chance to show my capabilities because coach Tatsuma (Yoshida) has been watching the SPL games, but at the same time the competition for places is really fierce,” said Idraki.
“I’ve to really thank Hougang because I won’t be here without them. The World Cup qualifiers is a really big stage to be in, so I’m not expecting that much yet. The main aim is to gain some experience there and I’ll be very grateful as long as I come home with a first cap.”
Like any footballer, representing his country has always been Idraki’s biggest dream in football. Adnan always had the belief that Idraki will make it too and Idraki is hoping to keep the national team jersey he wears, if he makes his debut.
“I don’t know whether we’re allowed to keep the jerseys, but I would really love to have it in my possession and bring it to my dad’s resting place to show him I’ve made it and this is for him,” explained Idraki.
Beyond the qualifiers, Idraki is targeting a spot in the squad that will travel to the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games at the end of the year. He is determined not to let his effort go to waste. Afterall, Idraki is unlike a typical young athlete – he embraces and is receptive to criticism.
“Of course every sportsman loves to hear the compliments and it’s nice to be at the receiving end of them, but for me I tend to listen to the criticism and somehow that motivates me a lot,” he explained.
“It’s nice to see people tagging me on social media to say nice things after I had a good game, but after that it’s important to start from zero again. I feel it’s so important to just block out the noise and keep my feet on the ground to progress as a footballer.”
Apart from excelling on the pitch, he is also looking to do well off it as he targets to further his studies in the near future.
“My priority previously was to quickly complete NS and get back into football. Now I’m looking to further my studies in a private institution. My captain at Hougang, Fabian (Kwok), is a big advocate of juggling studies with football and I hope to be able to do that.”