Singapore head coach Fandi Ahmad had nothing but praise for 18-year-old debutant Jacob Mahler who made his international bow against Fiji.
From playing for the National Football Academy U-18 side at the start of the year to making his senior debut in a matter of months, Mahler was a bundle of nerves and almost caused the Lions to concede an early goal when he gave the ball away in the first minute.
Despite the jittery start, the youngster recomposed himself and went on to clock a superb shift, even lasting the full 90 minutes.
“Thankfully it didn’t lead to a goal. I went back and made the challenge and they didn’t manage to score but yes, that was on me because I made that pass to Irfan (Fandi) and I take full responsibility for that. After that moment, I just took a minute and told myself to look forward because there are still 89 minutes to show what I’m made of.” Mahler told FOX Sports Asia.
That early scare not only did not stop the youngster from a memorable debut, it seemed to drive him on to put in a tireless shift, even bossing the midfield and eventually frustrating the Fijians enough to kick out at him as Kolinio Sivoki was shown a red card for his troubles.
Mahler’s impressive shift was a huge bonus for coach Fandi, who lauded the player’s performance and explained how tough a competitor he is.
“Jacob is a true professional at 18. He never reacted, he never do anything back and retaliate. This is Jacob Mahler. He get punched, he get kicked and he get elbowed. Even with Young Lions and at Hassanal Bolkiah, he gets up and plays after each foul,” Fandi exclaimed.
“I will ask him if he is OK and within a few seconds, he’ll get back up. He is a class act. His lungs is bigger than a lot of our (Singapore) players. We know because we do the (physical) tests. He can run and run and even though he looks very clumsy and slow, he gets there and gets stuck in and is not afraid. I think he has a good future.”
With his debut out of the way, Mahler has promised to keep his feet on the ground and grind his way to a spot in Singapore’s AFF Suzuki Cup squad.
Mahler added: “It was definitely a great feeling to make my debut for Singapore especially in front of my parents who were here (at the stadium) supporting me.
“I would love to participate in the Suzuki Cup and get a few minutes in there and maybe even try my luck playing overseas but the focus is now on the Young Lions and the national team.
“I need to keep playing good football and help my team in the league. Hopefully when coach makes the call for the October friendlies, I’ll still be in the squad against Mongolia and Cambodia and we will see how it goes from there.”
Fandi and the Lions will now return to club duties before regathering next month take to take Mongolia at home (October 12) and Cambodia away (October 16) in Phnom Penh.