By Wang Meng Meng
IT was 9.15 Friday night in Sydney. Abbas Saad was about to go to bed at his house in the suburbs of Brighton-Le-Sands.
Fifteen years ago, that was the time the night began for the former Malaysia Cup football heart-throb.
He was a familiar face at Singapore's trendiest night-spots, like Top Ten, Fire, Sparks, Zouk and the two clubs he co-owned: Hot Bods and Dancers - The Club.
Today, he is a youth coach, waking up at 7.30 on Saturday mornings to train kids.
As he said proudly: 'I'm a changed man. I loved the good old days in Singapore but, these days, I'm a married man and a responsible father of two young sons. I think I've partied enough.'
The tight jeans, the urbane jackets and his hair, neatly combed and gelled, have made way for a bald pate and casual wear.
But one thing has not changed, he remains the friendly Abbas many Singaporeans remember.
The phone interview lasted over an hour and he e-mailed The Sunday Times a photo of his two sons, Mohammed Ali, eight, named after the boxing legend, and Malek, five, after ex-Lions teammate and buddy Malek Awab.
The Lebanon-born Abbas married Rania, an Australian of Arab descent 14 years his junior, in 2000.
And he laughed heartily as he spoke of his lack of desire to catch up with his 'brudder' Fandi Ahmad, who leads the scoring stakes with five children.
He joked: 'Fandi's a machine. He's a straight shooter, unlike me. I keep hitting the posts.'
Apart from his family, football is his other love.
Last Thursday, his Football Association of Singapore life ban for corruption was lifted after 14 years, leaving him free to return to these shores as a coach.
That is a prospect that clearly excites Abbas, now 41. He is keen not only to coach in the S-League, but also take up permanent residency.
'It would be great if I can be a PR,' chirped Abbas, who visits Singapore two or three times a year.
'This is a country where I enjoyed the happiest days of my career. The people of Singapore will always be special to me and it's a tremendous place to live in.'
The former striker has a B coaching licence but he will take the Football Federation of Australia's A coaching examinations this year.
After which, if there are vacancies, he will gun for a position in Singapore.
Back then, his poster-boy looks saw platoons of fans following his every move. They waited for him at training, showering him with chocolates, flowers, cards and even scrapbooks of his photos.
He fondly remembers the fans, saying that 'they had put a lot of love into those gifts', and has the memorabilia packed away in his house.
When Abbas scored a hat-trick in the 4-0 Malaysia Cup final win over Pahang that helped Singapore clinch the 1994 M-League and Cup double, it was his finest hour.
But it also turned out to be his final hour in a Singapore shirt.
In April 1995, he was charged in court for conspiring to fix matches with ex-teammate Michal Vana and bookmaker Rajendran Kurusamy. After a 15-day trial, which attracted groups of his fans, he was found guilty and fined $50,000.
He was also slapped with an FAS life ban from all football activities and subsequently a worldwide Fifa ban that ended in 1996.
He was not bitter about the punishment but he did muse that the case was 'puzzling' and he suffered 'for scoring goals and helping my team to win'.
'A third of my life had gone by as a result of that ban. That's a lot of pain these 14 years,' he recalled.
'I am very grateful to the FAS for lifting the ban. I truly felt free when the news arrived on Thursday.
'It's an episode I hope to forget and I really hope the fans can remember me for the player that I was - an entertainer who brought smiles to the Kallang Roar.'
Upon returning to Sydney in June 1995, he had short stints with several Aussie clubs before finishing at Belmore Hercules in 2003.
He never lasted more than two years with each club because of wear and tear. All three ligaments and cartilage in his right knee have been removed over six operations.
But he is happy with his transition to life with a whistle, stopwatch and clipboard.
He has been the national coach for Deaf Footballl Australia for eight months now. He is also the youth technical director at former club Sydney Olympic and the head coach of Trinity Grammar School.
'It's immensely gratifying to be able to help develop football,' he said. 'I'm just glad to be able to pass on my knowledge to the youngsters.
'I have always been a clever player and, having played at a high level, I have a lot to offer as a coach.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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