A week after celebrating his 58th birthday on May 29, Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad received a belated gift when he found out from his elder sister via text that he was named one of the Asian Football Confederation’s Greatest Eredivisie Players in an online poll.
On June 5, the AFC listed the Singaporean as one of nine top players from the confederation to have graced the top-tier Dutch football league, alongside luminaries such as South Korea’s Park Ji Sung, Lee Young Pyo and Huh Jung Moo (all PSV Eindhoven) and Japan’s Shinji Ono (Feyenoord).
The other nominees are Iranian forwards Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Nijmegen and Alkmaar) and Reza Ghoochannejhad (Heerenveen and Zwolle).
Australians Jason Culina (Ajax Amsterdam, De Graafschap, Twente and PSV) and Brett Holman (Excelsior, Nijmegen and Alkmaar) are also on the list.
The AFC wrote: “Fandi Ahmad’s career in Dutch football (from 1983-1985) wasn’t as long as the other players in our list, but his achievements as the first Singaporean player in a major European league are remembered to this day.
“Despite the unprecedented nature of his time for FC Groningen, Fandi thrived. As a 21-year-old, he scored twice on his league debut, then found the net against Inter Milan in a Uefa Cup match three days later.
“A total of 36 games, 11 goals and two years later, the forward returned to play out an excellent career in South-east Asia, finishing with 55 goals for the Singaporean national team and icon status in his country.”
Fandi told The Straits Times he was surprised by the nomination and that, while he had not realised he was one of the Asian pioneers in the Eredivisie in the 1980s, he is grateful his exploits are remembered.
In 1982, he was a scrawny but talented 20-year-old when he went for a trial with Ajax. He turned down a three-year contract with the Dutch giants, but Groningen offered a two-year deal in 1983.
After leaving Groningen for Kuala Lumpur in 1985, the Dutch club came back for Fandi in 1987 with a three-year contract which was ultimately scuppered by work-permit issues.
He reminisced: “Those were the days when very few Asians, or indeed Asean players, were in Europe, and some people even thought that Singapore was in South America.
“I was fortunate and blessed to be able to get the opportunity to play and do well in the Eredivisie and Europe against quality opponents, but I also worked very hard.
“The result of the poll is not important, but it is good to put Singapore on the world football map and have achievements recorded.
“I hope more Singaporeans can play in Europe in the future, because that can only be good for their own development, the national team and Singapore football in general.”
Over 17,000 votes for the fans’ favourite player have been cast at press time, with Fandi currently third behind the Iranians. The poll runs until 4pm, Thursday.