Young Lions’ Khairin Nadim, 17, out to prove age is just a number
The youngest player ever to score five goals in Singapore professional football history, teenage prodigy Khairin Nadim is out to break more records.
Receiving the ball about 25 metres away from goal, Young Lions striker Khairin Nadim instantly knew what he wanted to do.
After taking a few touches to control the ball and steady himself, he curled a shot into the far corner to earn his side a valuable point against Geylang International on Mar 20.
He didn’t realise it then, but the goal would turn out to be a monumental one – At just 16 years and 316 days old, Khairin became the youngest player ever to score five goals in Singapore Premier League (SPL), eclipsing the previous record of 17 years and 102 days set by Geylang’s Zikos Chua in 2019.
To cap off a remarkable week, he was also called up by Japanese coach Tatsuma Yoshida to train with the senior national team during the recent international window – something he described as a “dream come true”.
“I never expected myself to get this opportunity at this young age, but it’s one that I really cherish,” Khairin told Youthopia. “It’s a real blessing for me to train alongside these big-name players.
“I learnt a lot throughout the few training sessions from these senior players, especially Faris Ramli. He taught me how not to be nervous, to be more confident on the ball and to prove to people what I can do.”
It has been a rapid rise for the teenager, who burst onto the scene in 2020 as the SPL’s youngest-ever debutant at 15 years and 298 days. He then became the third-youngest player to score in Singapore’s professional football league in the Young Lions’ 3-1 loss to Tampines in the same year, missing Singapore captain Hariss Harun’s record by just 20 days.
He has continued where he left off this year, even earning the SPL Young Player of the Month award in March.
Reflecting on his first 15 months as a professional footballer, Khairin, who turned 17 just this week, grinned.
“It was a great feeling to showcase my abilities and prove to the fans that age is just a number.”
“Scoring against a big team like Tampines (and beating an accomplished defender in Daniel Bennett) gave me very big satisfaction and motivation to further up my game,” said Khairin, referring to the first goal he scored.
While he was a scrawny forward then, Khairin took on the advice of coach Nazri Nasir to bulk up his physique over the off-season, so his body can better handle the rigours of the professional game.
Thanks to an individual program tailored by Haiyum Jaafar, head of football science at the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), Khairin’s physique looks significantly different. He has gained more than 10kg and – as a reminder that Khairin is still developing – grew more than 10cm in height.
Khairin shared: “I got to put in extra work in every gym session… Even after training, I also have to do some additional exercises in my own free time when I’m at home. I can feel that I’ve really grown stronger physically as a player and I’m really happy with the progress so far.”
Of course, Khairin isn’t just working on his physicals. Acknowledging that he is far from the finished product – at 17, he shouldn’t be – he is working hard to improve technically too, especially on his heading technique, to become a more all-round forward.
One way he’s doing so is to watch videos of Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s also picking up tips from Ilhan Fandi, whom he describes as a “good header of the ball”, in training.
Khairin’s drive to improve himself is commendable, especially for someone so young. Yet, as someone who is less academically-inclined, football – given the talent he has – represents the best opportunity for him to earn a living.
“I’m not very good at my studies,” Khairin said truthfully.
“When I was around the age of 12, I knew I had the potential (to make it as a professional footballer). That was when I started joining various competitions and scored a lot of goals.
“From then onwards, I just kept training and working hard to improve my game. To break a few records makes me proud, but it’s not enough for me – I want to break even more records going forwards to show I really have the ability.”
Knowing what he wants to do is one thing, but having the maturity to keep working towards it is another. Whether Khairin gets to fulfill his dream playing regularly for the Singapore National Team and making it into Europe depends on that.
He has impressed many so far. His coach at Young Lions, Philippe Aw, describes Khairin as someone who loves his football and wants to train and play all the time.
“He has matured over time. In the beginning, he needed guidance on ‘off-the-field’ lifestyle. He has definitely learnt and improved in this aspect,” said Philippe.
“His fearless attitude is very impressive. Being so young, playing amongst many years his senior, he shows no fear.”
Philippe, who has coached at the youth level since 2007, added that Khairin is among the most talented players he has coached too.
“In order to scale the heights, he will have to be mentally strong and the will to break through barriers and comfort zones,” he said.
Perhaps the mandatory two-year National Service (NS) stint, which may come soon for Khairin having completed his GCE ‘N’ Levels last year, may help in that regard. Nonetheless, Khairin is determined to continue developing as a fine footballer and live up to the expectations of Singapore football fans that he could be the next big thing for the national team.
“I know expectations of me are really huge now and it’s something that I’ve to live with,” he remarked. “I have to constantly prove myself and let my potential slip away.
“One thing that I’ve learnt is not to read too much into online comments. If there is a good comment, I can take it as motivation to build on. For a bad comment, I have to either ignore or shut it off.
“NS is something which every Singaporean male has to go through so I’m not dreading it. I just have to overcome the two years and come back stronger in my football career.”