5 Singapore Football Players Who Are Plying Their Trade Overseas
In the Singapore Premier League (SPL), there has been renewed interest in Singapore's only professional football league thanks to the Lion City Sailors becoming the country’s first privatised club after it was bought over by home-grown organisation Sea (the parent company of Shopee), winning the championship in the process back in 2021.
While our league remains competitive with other Southeast Asian countries, sending our best talents to compete in overseas leagues, where they can play with the best of the best, can help them develop their skills further, which can in turn elevate the overall football standard in Singapore.
There’s a reason why Fandi Ahmad had such a legendary career, thanks to his stint at Dutch club Groningen back in the 1980s. That tradition continues, as there are a number of talented Singapore footballers currently plying their trade in overseas leagues. Here are five that you should know about.
Irfan Fandi, 25
Club: BG Pathum United
League: Thai League 1, Thailand
Starting off with one of the household names of Singapore! Irfan is, of course, the eldest son of footballing legend Fandi Ahmad. But the 25 year old is quietly carving out quite the legacy for himself.
At nearly 1.9m, he reinvented himself as a modern centre-back who is known for his defensive acumen as well as aerial prowess. He is the first Singaporean to have played professionally in South America and in 2014, was listed by British daily, The Guardian, among world football’s 40 best young talents. Irfan would later reject a two-year contract from his Chilean club Universidad Católica to fulfill his NS obligations. A true Singaporean son!
In 2018, Irfan signed with BG Pathum United, one of Thailand’s biggest clubs and later on became the first Singaporean to win the Thai League 1 title. He is currently a first-team regular for the club and a fixture in our National Team. Here’s hoping he can lead the Lions to an international title to go along with his champion’s medal in Thailand.
Ikhsan Fandi, 24
Club: BG Pathum United
League: Thai League 1, Thailand
Fair warning - We’ll be seeing a lot of Fandi Ahmad’s sons on this list. Ikhsan Fandi is the one that’s closest to his legendary father in terms of playing style and position. He is a deadly forward who just loves to score goals.
In fact, he won the hearts of many local football fans when he scored a brace against eternal rivals Malaysia in an international friendly last year at the Singapore Sports Hub. He first burst on the scene when he scored a hat-trick in 11 minutes to salvage a 3-3 draw for the Singapore Under-16s against the Liverpool U-15s, who had future first-teamers Curtis Jones and Neco Williams in their line-up. Since then, he has played in a number of Norwegian clubs in Europe before following in his older brother’s footsteps, by joining Thai champions BG Pathum United.
Fun fact: With 258,000 followers, Ikhsan is easily Singapore's most followed athlete on Instagram by a comfortable margin, surpassing Badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew and Olympic gold medallist Schooling, who have 219,000 and 180,000 followers, respectively. Talk about being Mr. Popular!
Ilhan Fandi, 20
Position: Forward / Midfielder
League: Challenger Pro League, Belgium
The last Fandi on this list, we promise! Ilhan is the latest Fandi bro to leave our shores in search of European glory. After scoring 20 goals in the SPL for eventual champions Albirex Niigata in 2022, he announced that he would sign for Belgian second-tier club KMSK Deinze.
However, Ilhan’s dream move could potentially be derailed due to an unfortunate knee injury. This has caused him to be sidelined since the turn of the year, preventing him from making his debut for his new Belgian club.
It’s such a shame, as the 20 year old was in excellent form last year, even nabbing the SPL Young Player of the Year before his move. Here’s hoping that Ilhan can make a speedy recovery and make history as the first Singaporean to play in Belgium. Get well soon, Ilhan!
Safuwan Baharudin, 31
Club: Negeri Sembilan
League: Malaysia Super League, Malaysia
Safuwan Baharudin is one of the best Singapore defenders of this generation, known for his technical abilities and versatility. Despite being a centre-back, he has been utilised multiple times in the forward position every time his team needs a dramatic, last-minute winner.
Safuwan’s career has seen him win titles in both Singapore and Malaysia. He even had a brief loan stint with Melbourne City from Australia in 2015, which is an affiliated club of current English Premier League Champions Manchester City.
Another interesting fact is that thanks to his brief spell with the Australian team, he was actually featured on FIFA 15, one of only a handful of Singaporeans to appear in the popular football video game. What a bucket list moment that is.
These days, the 31 year old plies his trade for Negeri Sembilan in the Malaysian Super League. Following a long break from football due to concussions, we’re just happy to see Safuwan enjoying his football once again.
Armin Maier, 25
Club: SV Heimstetten
League: Regionaligga, Germany
Armin Maier is the least known player on this list, and he’s certainly quite the enigma. While he was born in Singapore, Armin’s family migrated to Germany when he was only 5 years old. This led him to play for a number of teams around Europe, including the aforementioned Germany, Switzerland, and even Iceland.
Interestingly enough, he actually returned to Singapore in 2017 to complete his NS and played under Fandi Ahmad for the Young Lions for half a season. Afterwards, he would play for a number of clubs in Malaysia before returning to Europe.
Despite being a global citizen, he does technically hold a Singapore passport, which qualifies Armin to be on this list. Keep an eye out for this one!