Having been involved in the National Team as their Head Physiotherapist for close to 10 years now, and with her family deeply entrenched in local football, Nurhafizah Abu Sujad thought she had just about seen it all when it came to the beautiful game in Singapore.
That was until the Lion City Sailors came along.
The privatisation of the Sailors in 2020 – making them the first, and to-date only, club in Singapore to do so – was a move heralded by many as the dawn of a new era for local football.
But Nurhafizah – or Fizah, as she prefers to be known – was initially cynical about the Sailors.
“As someone who is a part of the local football fraternity for a long time, I had my doubts about this venture,” admitted Fizah, who comes from a renowned footballing family which includes her father, former Singapore international Abu Sujad, elder brother Nadzi, who played for Balestier Khalsa, younger brother and current Lion, Hafiz, as well as her iconic cousin, Fandi Ahmad.
“After all, we had previously seen other clubs embark on ambitious endeavours that didn’t quite work out, so I was definitely a little sceptical about the Sailors project as well.”
Revealing that she had turned down job offers from private hospitals to join the Sailors as she searched for a new challenge in the next chapter of her career, Fizah pointed to the Sailors’ firm commitment to an ambitious vision that was the key factor in her decision.
Little by little, Fizah’s doubts about the Sailors began to dissipate, as she witnessed the club taking significant steps to improve the way they operated – both on and off the pitch.
Supported by chairman and owner Forrest Li, the club has moved to strengthen the squad by signing key players such Hariss Harun, Diego Lopes and Stipe Plazibat. Equally significant, however, was the investment put into ensuring that the Sailors would be well-supported by a team of qualified and professional backroom staff.
Given the immense respect that Fizah had garnered as a physiotherapist over the past decade, and her drive for developmental work and building top-level sports science and sports medicine departments, it was clear that Fizah’s vision was very much aligned with the Sailors’.
“I was convinced by how strongly Forrest believes in the Sailors, and how determined he is to achieve his goals for the club – I realised this is the real deal,” revealed Fizah.
“What impressed particularly was the fact that the club is taking active steps to ensure that their sports medicine and sports science department is at a high level, something I’m obviously interested in.”
As the Sailors’ Head Physiotherapist, Fizah will primarily be in charge of injury prevention and management. She will also work closely with the Sailor’s Head of Sports Science Mario Jovanovic in building a robust sports medicine structure across the Sailor’s first team all the way through to the academy.
Fizah will continue to serve the National Team as their Head Physiotherapist during FIFA International Windows. It is a commitment to the national cause that the Sailors – who are regularly well represented in Tatsuma Yoshida’s Lions – are proud of.
Fizah said her decision to embark on this career path was well-received by her family, although she joked that her brother, Hafiz, who plays for Singapore Premier League (SPL) rivals Hougang United, was far less enthralled than the rest.
“We’re going to be on opposing sides of the dugout!” Fizah laughed. “We’ve had a bit of banter already about me joining the Sailors, but I know he supports me completely and is happy that I have this new role.”
Fizah, who officially started in her new role on July 1, concedes she was a little “overwhelmed” by the large scale of the Sailors set-up when she reported for her first day of work.
“Including the coaches, we had over 20 support staff at training, which is the largest set-up that I’ve ever worked in, so I was quite overwhelmed at the start” said Fizah. “But having familiar faces around, like the National Team players as well as assistant coach Noh Rahman, helped greatly in my adaptation to the club.
“Due to the number of staff, every one of us can fully concentrate on our own roles, which means we can be more precise and detailed in what we do, making us more efficient.”
This also allows Fizah to pay more attention to her secondary role of building the club’s sports science and sports medicine department.
“In the next two to three years, I hope to be able to build up the quality of the club’s sports medicine department. My goal is to have a robust team of physios and sports trainers that will be able to provide the very best services to the senior team, all the way through to the academy,” Fizah declared.
In the short-term, though, Fizah is simply focused on helping the Sailors’ senior players minimise the risk of injury whenever they step onto the pitch.
This is especially so given that the Sailors’ new head coach, Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) winner Kim Do-hoon, has made clear his vision of implementing a “dynamic style of attacking football”.
Fizah is fully aware that this usually involves players doing a lot of hard-running on the pitch, which can lead to a greater risk of muscular injury.
To counter that, Fizah will be emphasising on player recovery, which she says is crucial to keeping players fresh after such intense physical exertion.
“The key is good recovery…the recovery trajectory is incredibly important in preventing injuries, especially after an intense workout,” Fizah explained. “Of course, good nutrition and fitness levels are also crucial, so we will keep a close eye on aspects like players’ body fat percentage to make sure they are in optimum shape.”
When asked which player she thought was a role model in keeping themselves in the best of shape, Fizah replied without skipping a beat: “Our National Team captain – and Sailor – Hariss Harun.”
She added: “The way Hariss looks after himself off the pitch, in terms of his fitness, his recovery routines and what he eats is perfect. He’s the role model that other local footballers should look to emulate.”
Having now seen up close what the Sailors have done – and will continue to do – in their quest to become one of the top teams in the region, Fizah is confident that the club will succeed sooner rather than later.
“The goal of the club is to be one of the best in Asia. Given the support that has been provided by Forrest, I don’t see why we can’t achieve it,” Fizah said.
“I think we can definitely go far if everyone here pulls in the same direction and is hungry for success. Personally, I’m very excited to be part of this journey. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but I’m up for it, and I will do my very best to help the club achieve its goals.”