My Dad, Coach Akbar Nawaz. My Boy, Saifullah Akbar.

My Dad, Coach Akbar Nawaz. My Boy, Saifullah Akbar.

Fast-rising national squad player Saifullah Akbar says his father, veteran Coach Akbar Nawaz, inspired him to become who he is today. Photo by Singapore Sports Hub.

It was nearly 20 years ago, but Coach Akbar Nawaz remembers it like it was yesterday — the first time he saw his son Saifullah Akbar play football. “I had brought my family to the SPANS-JOM Clubhouse, where Coach Tommy (Koh) was running a football academy. Saifullah, my oldest of four kids, was keen to join and I let him,” says the 47-year-old, a celebrated veteran in the local football scene, with stints coaching Tampines Rovers and current club Balestier Khalsa.

Although he was just five years old then, Saifullah remembers the moment well. “One of the first drills I did was to keep kicking the ball against the wall, which helped with my ball control and my techniques.”

That early training put him in good stead. From the moment Saifullah got on the pitch, Coach Akbar knew he had something special in him. He recalls, “He was a natural in his ball control and had the hunger to go against the bigger boys. It was something which I saw was different with other kids at that point in time.” Despite his observation, Coach Akbar never pressured his son to take on football professionally. “Ultimately, I just wanted him to enjoy himself in whatever stage he might be in.”

An influential figure
Unbeknownst to Coach Akbar, his own career in football had inspired Saifullah to become the fast-rising player that he is today.

Injuries plagued Coach Akbar’s playing career, but he found greater success coaching teams. Regardless, he remains an inspiration to Saifullah. “Although my father was not as accomplished as a player, I was inspired by his coaching — how he succeeded and brought multiple teams to victory. It makes me want to become a coach someday.”

For now, Saifullah is still very much a player — he’s the attacking midfielder for Singapore Premier League (SPL) club Lion City Sailors and is also a member of the national squad. And Coach Akbar has had the unique opportunity of being both a father and a coach to his son, back when Saifullah was playing in the National Under-14 league.

Recalling the experience, Saifullah says, “As a coach, my father is fully committed to just football; he puts aside his fatherhood for the benefit of the sport. For example, if I’ve done something that needs correcting, he won’t shy away from correcting me, even in front of my teammates. But after the games, he goes back to being my father. Always supportive and always there for me.”

STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART
“Thank you for being the best father I COULD ever ask for. Believing in me, motivating me always encouraging and also being the most supportive dad I could ask for. Your sacrifices for the family and me are the only reason I would want to achieve greater things so that I can repay all of that.”

— Saifullah Akbar to his dad Coach Akbar Nawaz

Deep respect for each other
With Father’s Day around the corner, Here to Play asks Saifullah how he will be marking the occasion with his father. “If his schedule permits, I will plan a nice staycation for him to enjoy,” he shares.

Saifullah adds that it’s a small token of his appreciation for all that his father has done. “When I become a father, I want to be as supportive as my dad was to me, even if my kids’ interests are not in sports. I will be there for them 100 per cent — the same way that my dad has been there for me.”

Coach Akbar echoes his son’s pride, saying, “My wife and I are ardent supporters of Saifullah’s pursuits. The whole family is proud of what Saifullah has done so far. Even if it is not football that will bring him to where he wants to be, the family is always right behind him.”

 

BEST GOALS IN LIFE

Two lessons that Saifullah has picked up from his father, Coach Akbar.

  • Never be afraid to fail. “My father has never shied away from trying new tactics, even if they are risky. He is driven by a belief in learning from failures and turning those setbacks into successes.”
  • Stay positive. “Even if things don’t go his way, he remains positive and patient. That is very inspirational to see, and I try to emulate that.”
 

MY PRIDE AND JOY

Coach Akbar lets us in on his three other children:

  • Shahrullah, 22, is serving National Service. He likes football and plays occasionally, although he is into gaming a lot too.”
  • Aqeelah, 16, is not so much into football but tracks Saifullah’s success as and when she can.”
  • Adeelah, 5, is the most passionate of the lot, shouting for Saifullah the loudest.”
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