Youth power at Brunei Super League

Fadhil Yunus

The Brunei Super League (BSL) may only had two rounds this season amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak but there has not been a shortage of young talents on display with a number of youth prospects already taking the league by storm.

Since the league was expanded to 16 teams – a record number since it was rebranded back in 2012 – domestic clubs have swooped in to recruit the country’s promising players whose careers have seen them well-positioned to be called up to the senior national team in the future.

For starters, the Tabuan academy squad, who made a return to the top flight after a year of hiatus, is a team full of youth internationals with a quartet of 15-year-olds who are easily the youngest not just in the squad but also in the league.

The entire team made a huge step-up from the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) Under-16 Youth League – in which they were crowned champions last year, but their progress will benefit them in the long run against older and more experienced players. With no player over the age of 18, Tabuan have the squad with the youngest average age.

Tabuan strikers Syaherrul Affendy Syahmirul Nizam and Mohd Irfan bin Roshidi, both 16, are among the youngest scorers of the Brunei Super League having got off the mark in the 2-1 win against Panchor Murai FC.

File photo of Tabuan striker Syaherrul Affendy Syahmirul Nizam. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

The team’s participation will help expose them to a competitive environment so that they will be prepared once they assemble in the regional scene at age group level, particularly when it comes to engagements in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) tournaments.

The national development team are not the only side who are aiding the development of young players. DPMM FC, one of the newcomers although they did feature during the early years of their establishment, feature a number of teenagers in the starting line-up.

Despite a limited squad, a trio of 18-year-olds in Afif Roshidi, Shafiq Hidayat Azim Sharizam and Aisan Aisamuddin have been entrusted in the starting line-up in their opening two games.

Imam Mahdi Suhaimi – another 18-year-old who operates as a central midfielder – and Shafiq Hidayat slowly adjusted to life in the top flight and both also each earned a goal in their Super League debuts.

League leaders Kasuka FC also have young stars at their disposal with Aisan Aizuddin Aiman breaking into the first-team after shining for the under-19s last year.

The forward, who is an under-20 international, came on as a substitute and scored an audacious lob during a 4-2 win against Indera SC in his last appearance.

Setia Perdana, who gained promotion to the Super League in 2017, have also gone for youth after starting teenagers Mohd Amiruddin bin Haji Salleh and Muhammad Fathlinnur against Kota Ranger FC.

Rimba Star also have huge plans to develop 18-year-old Hibatur Rahman Mohamad after bringing him into the first team.

Another side to join the list clubs of adding young players to their team are Wijaya FC after securing a spot for 17-year-old Khairan Zikry Zulkhairi in the first team. While the young talent could have featured in the under-19 league, the club sees potential in the player and thus instantly promoted him to the first team.

The practice of fielding youth also extends to Bakes FC, as the club featured a couple of 19-year-olds in Md Nurshafif and Md Dannysh Ashraf in the starting line-up against Rimba Star.

Panchor Murai are also not left out in providing youth opportunities to deliver at the highest level of football in Brunei as 18-year-olds Fardi Farhan Affendi and Mohd Noorshahiman Noradiman managed to make it to the bench for the team against Tabuan.