Singapore starlet Ikhsan inspired by legendary father
Ikhsan Fandi is Singapore’s top scorer in qualifying for Qatar 2022
His father Fandi Ahmad is a national legend
Ikhsan aims to surpass his dad with World Cup qualifying breakthrough
'Like father like son' may seem like a cliché when it comes to Ikhsan Fandi. For those who have followed the careers of Ikhsan and his dad, Fandi Ahmad, however, there seems little doubt that football pedigree has been passed down a generation.
Ikhsan, at 21, is Singapore's most in-form striker, having scored three times during their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ qualifying campaign. Fandi, 58, is a veritable national legend. With 55 goals from 101 international appearances, he is the Lions' all-time top-scorer.
But while you might expect that Fandi, who starred for Dutch side Groningen during a varied career, influenced Ikhsan to pursue a football career, that wasn't necessarily the case.
"My father didn't force us to play football. Instead, he left us to choose what to do by ourselves," the Norway-based striker told FIFA.com. "But he always said that if you make the choice, you have to keep up with it and give it your all. You can never quit halfway.
"Since I decided to play football, he has provided support. He is not the type of guy to shout 'You should do this' or 'You shouldn't do that'. He tells me, 'It would be better if you do this'. He usually gives his advice this way after a match. It is very helpful for me; not everyone has the opportunity to receive such tips."
Like his father, Ikhsan has sought to make a name for himself overseas. As a teenager, in 2013, he and his old brother Irfan travelled to Spain for a trial with Hercules before moving on to Chile to sign for A.C. Barnechea.
Having honed his skills, Ikhsan returned home in 2016 to play for first Home United and then Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League. And last year he secured a deal with Norwegian side Raufoss IL, with whom he has scored six times in his first season.
Even more impressive is his form at international level, where he has scored eight times in 18 appearances. Ikhsan has played a key role up front in Singapore's ongoing qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022, notably opening the scoring to set his side on the path to a 2-1 away win against Yemen in their last outing.
Such form has helped establish him among the hottest prospects in his country and the wider region. But while fans dream of him emulating his father, Ikhsan wants to carve out a name of his own.
"The pressure is always there," he said. "Everybody knows my father is a legend in Singapore, so expectations are inevitable. But I try to not to think about it and just concentrate on my work.
"My dad spent several successful seasons with Groningen in the top division in the Netherlands. I am now playing in the second division in Norway, so I am still way behind," he added.
Having said that, the young aspirant does harbour ambitions of eclipsing his father. "I set that goal even before I joined the national team. I used to tell myself that I should try to score more goals for Singapore than my father, so I work hard to score in every match for my country. It might be the plan of a lifetime, but I will try to beat his record."
Ikhsan's chance may come earlier than expected considering his excellent form in Singapore's Qatar 2022 qualifiers. Fandi featured for Singapore in qualifying for USA 1994, scoring seven times only to see his side fail to progress past the preliminary group stage.
Now though, the Lions - sitting third behind Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia - have hopes of progressing to the final round for the first time. Ikhsan was certainly quick to voice his confidence for the team's prospects under new coach Tatsuma Yoshida.
"[Under Yoshida] we now try to understand better about positional play, our roles on the pitch and the responsibility each person has. He places a lot of emphasis on quick passing, moving and supporting each other. We could actually have won more games considering our performances."
There are three games left for Singapore when the Asian qualifying resumes this October, with Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan lying in wait. And despite the daunting tasks facing them, Ikhsan has belief.
"The Saudis are Asian powerhouses and have played in the World Cup, while Uzbekistan are also strong," he said. "But if we play well, if everyone of us does our job well, we can achieve the results we want. That is the beauty of the game."
*Photos courtesy of Football Association of Singapore (FAS)