As the eldest son of local football legend Fandi Ahmad, 18-year-old Irfan Fandi has amassed a long list of accomplishments for his talent on the football field. The Guardian newspaper in the UK named the strapping heart-throb one of the 40 best young talents in world football in 2014 and in January, he joined the Home United team. His latest accomplishment: a nomination for Favourite Asian Sports Star at the Nickelodeon 2016 Kids’ Choice Awards in Los Angeles on March 12, 2016.
Besides his passion for football, Irfan also has a special place in his heart for his girlfriend of five years, national silat team member Nurul Suhaila Mohamed Saiful.
Photo: The New Paper
“She just turned 21, and I went to her house last night to give her balloons and a cake,” he told The New Paper in an interview on Feb 25, 2016.
“She was shocked because I’m not the romantic kind at all. I think this will be my last time doing this,” he joked.
An accomplished silat exponent, Nurul Suhaila clinched a bronze medal for her category (Class D, 60 to 65kg) at last year’s SEA Games and a silver medal at last year’s Pencak Silat Championships. She also won a gold medal at the Sijori Pencak Silat Championships in 2014.
Though their relationship is known in local sports circles, Irfan said this is the first time he is discussing it with the media. The young couple met six years ago when they were in the Singapore Sports School and lived in separate dormitories on the same floor.
“We had some awkward encounters in the lift, and eventually we exchanged numbers and got to know each other,” said Irfan. Besides the usual movie and dinner dates, Irfan and Nurul Suhaila also bond over their shared love for sports.
“We like to go to the gym and run together, although we don’t often find time as our schedules are quite tight.
“I appreciate that she sees me differently from other people, and knows me for who I really am.”
During his training stint in Chile from late 2013 to early last year with football club Universidad Catolica, the pair put their relationship on hold. But they continued to keep in touch via Skype, he said. He added that his family, including dad Fandi and his mum, former model Wendy Jacobs, have met Nurul Suhaila and approve of the relationship.
As Irfan prepares to enter national service later this year, he is hoping for a post that allows him to continue his football training. He is also interested in the entertainment scene, citing modelling, acting and hosting as future possibilities.
While he used to post on his Instagram account shirtless pictures of himself which show off his chiselled abs, he said he has since removed them because he would prefer fans to focus on his football career.
“My mum has been persuading me to model, but I’ve not had the chance so far. Still, I’m open to it. I don’t mind doing both soccer and modelling, like (British superstar David Beckham’s son) Brooklyn Beckham.”
Nickelodeon: He’s a role model
Irfan Fandi grew up watching the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards shows on TV and feels it is a “great honour” to be nominated in the Favourite Asian Sports Star category.
“Of course, (my parents) are also proud… This nomination means a lot to me because it’s the first award where it’s not only about football, but also about me as a personality,” he said.
Ms Syahrizan Mansor, vice-president of the Nickelodeon brand in Asia at Viacom International Media Networks, said Irfan made the list because he embodied what Nickelodeon was looking for in that particular category.
He is up against footballer Kim Kurniawan from Indonesia, diver Pandelela Rinong from Malaysia and basketballer Jeron Teng from the Philippines. The winner will be determined by public votes and other considerations. This year is the first time the Favourite Asian Sports Star category has been introduced. Last year, Ah Boys To Men actor Tosh Zhang was nominated for Favourite Asian Act.
Ms Syahrizan said: “Irfan Fandi is a rising sports star. He is certainly an inspiration and role model to many kids in Singapore, given his accomplishments in his football career.”
Irfan will not be attending the awards ceremony, which will air over Nickelodeon (StarHub TV Ch 32) on March 14 at 10.30am, but he is optimistic about his chances.
He is even filming an acceptance speech – just in case. “I don’t know if I’ll win, but there’s always a chance,” he said.
This article was originally published in The New Paper, Friday, 26 February 2016.