With just three touches of the ball, Geylang International striker Khairul Nizam showed the talent that had him earmarked as a potential star but whose flashes of brilliance have only been fleeting.
When Shah Shahiran’s stray pass found its way to Nizam, there seemed little danger for Tampines Rovers and their defence.
But the Eagles forward, spotting goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari off his line, struck a stunning 35-metre equaliser for a valuable point against the Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders last week.
Nizam then pointed to the skies in celebration. He later explained it was a tribute to his Singapore Under-18 coach Salim Moin, who died the night before on Nov 6.
He said: “Coach Salim used to tell us, ‘Why dribble when you can shoot? Don’t dribble so much and waste your energy.’ (Geylang assistant coach V. Kanan) told me coach Salim used to score this type of long-range goals as a player, and I want to dedicate my goal to him… We were all very sad to learn of his passing, and miss him dearly.”
It has been more than a decade since he burst onto the scene as a precocious No. 9, whom former national coach Radojko Avramovic had tipped to eventually lead the line for the national team.
But ill discipline and bad luck with injuries meant he has yet to fulfil those expectations. He has 24 caps for Singapore but has yet to score an international goal.
Last year, he managed four goals in the Singapore Cup for Warriors FC but failed to score in 10 SPL games. The 29-year-old has struck four times this season for Geylang to become the leading local scorer, a worrying prospect for tomorrow’s opponents Albirex Niigata.
Nizam insists he is a changed man after getting married in 2017 and is now determined to make the most of the remainder of his career. Those goals include playing overseas, adding to his 2015 Malaysian FA Cup medal and ending that drought with the Lions.
He said: “I was playful and happy-go-lucky back then, and there was a lot of pressure and expectation on me, which I didn’t know how to cope with.
“But now that I have a family depending on me, I am more focused. My mind is clearer, and I’m no longer the kid I was. I want to be remembered for the right reasons and not as a wasted talent.
Goals by Khairul Nizam, the SPL’s leading local scorer.
“I’m thankful Geylang signed me after Warriors had to sit out. Like the national team, Geylang have a Japanese style of play with high press and quick counters. We have to be fit to play this style, and I’m looking forward to repaying the club’s faith in me.”
The Eagles are sixth in the eight-team table with 10 points, one behind Lion City Sailors in fifth, four behind Albirex (second), and seven adrift of Tampines.
The top senior local team will qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage, while the next two will play in the AFC Cup.
Eagles coach Noor Ali is relying on Nizam, who has scored in his last three league games, to trouble Albirex at Our Tampines Hub.
Hougang 4 Young Lions 1
Balestier 2 Tampines 2
Geylang v Albirex
Ch111/Ch202, Our Tampines Hub, 7.35pm
Sailors v Tanjong Pagar
Ch112/Ch201, Bishan Stadium, 7.35pm
All on Singtel TV/StarHub and SPL’s Facebook page
Noor Ali, 45, said: “For the longest time, Singapore have not had a No. 9 like Nizam, who can hold up play and make good runs behind the defence. After Fandi Ahmad, I think he is the best header of the ball in recent times.”
The former Singapore international also has a good record against the Japanese outfit after taking charge of Geylang last year. He won two of their three league games last year, losing the other.
The Eagles were without a win in 18 league games against Albirex from 2012 to 2018.
Noor Ali said: “Albirex will be tough because they are technically sound and energetic. Give them time and space, they will kill you.
“We have proven if we are disciplined, compact, and not afraid to play our football, we can match any team, so hopefully we will be able to do that against Albirex.”