Singapore: As much of the world went into lockdown in a bid to suppress the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Hougang United defender Zac Anderson buried his head deeper into his books in his latest move towards life after football.
Soon after the Singapore Premier League suspended play on March 24, the 29-year-old was continuing his work towards a Masters degree in Business Administration, all part of a plan to prepare for the days when he no longer pulls on his boots and takes to football fields around Asia.
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“It’s been a big semester,” the former Sydney FC player told the-AFC.com.
“I got lucky that I turned it up a bit this year and then we’ve had what has happened globally. I went from two to three subjects and they’re all finance subjects, so it’s very mentally draining. As soon as football slowed down I sunk my energy into that.”
Life after football is a subject rarely discussed within the sport, but with a solid grounding in the importance of education Anderson has long had one eye on what he plans to do once his playing career has concluded.
Knowing he was never likely to reach the pinnacle of the sport from an early age made it easier for Anderson to put significant focus on life away from the game, no matter how much he loved football and dedicated himself to it.
“My parents are both school teachers, so I come from an academic family,” he says. “When I started my football career they pushed me to continue my academic studies."
“I remember being at a Professional Footballers Australia conference and they had me up to speak about why I was studying law at the time and I said: I’m a pretty bang average footballer and I’m not going to make the money that Mark Schwarzer – because he was in the room – was making, so I know at a point in my life I’m going to have to transition and get a second career.
“And everyone was like: What are you talking about? You don’t back yourself? It wasn’t the stereotypical thing to say. As a young footballer you’re supposed to say: I’m going to play for Chelsea, or whatever. But at a young age I had the understanding to know that, yeah I love football and I was going to work as hard as I could but the chances I was going to be a Mark Schwarzer or a Lucas Neill were quite slim."
“I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and I ended up copping a bit of flack for it, but here we are. I was lucky that I was grounded and I wasn’t told that I was better than I was. There is that problem in a lot of sports, where players have people around them who aren’t really honest.
“I was very lucky that my mum and dad and my family and close friends told me how good I was, which wasn’t very good. The second part of it is to have the ability to go to Europe and make enough money to last for the rest of your life is slim. And you need to understand how to reinvest the cash and not blow it.
“I know footballers who went overseas and made good cash but they’ve blown it because they didn’t know what to do with it. They made so many mistakes because people have taken advantage of them.”
Despite his reservations about his talent, Anderson has been able to carve out a solid career. He represented Australia at the U-20 and U-23 levels and was part of the Central Coast Mariners squad that won the A-League title in 2013.
From there he went on to play for Sydney FC before joining Emirates FC in the United Arab Emirates as well as having a spell in Malaysia with Kedah, PKNS and Perak that he recounts with great affection.
“I went to the UAE and then I went to Malaysia, and that was probably the best time in my career because I was playing week in, week out and really felt it because I was playing in front of 30 and 40,000 fans,” he said.
“The level in Malaysia is maybe a little less than the A-League, but what’s cool is that you’re playing in front of all these people every week. You actually feel like a footballer, because if you don’t win you can’t go to the mall!
“When I left Malaysia and went back to Australia I was thinking about giving football away. I wasn’t sure if I had the passion to continue. I’m an all-or-nothing kind of guy and I think having a bit of time away, two months not thinking about football and turning my head away from all the agents was good because it gave me some clarity. It made me realise this was the time to think about what I’ll do after football."
“I still love playing, I love training and going out and trying to win. I’m still competitive, but why not use football as a vehicle for the next step.”
That led him to Singapore, where he joined Hougang United FC as they prepared for the 2020 AFC Cup after finishing in third place in the 2019 edition of the Singapore Premier League. The move allowed him to combine his continued desire to play with opportunities to prepare for a life in the business world.
Having experienced the AFC Champions League during his time with Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners, the prospect of featuring in continental competition was one Anderson relished.
“I came to Singapore because of life after football,” he said. “I saw an opportunity when I was in Malaysia to come to Singapore for a little bit. I could see the way Singapore has been developing itself for business and I was starting to see opportunities in networking.
“The AFC Cup’s a fantastic competition and it’s one of the reasons I came to Hougang. I had played in the AFC Champions League with Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners and it was the highlight of my career when I was playing in the A-League, just to travel and play against great players.
“The AFC Cup is something very similar for us and I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s been a different experience. Hougang are more in the competition for experience and exposure. The Singapore league is more about developing younger players to help the national team and that’s something I’ve had to appreciate quickly.”
Despite that, Hougang remain in contention for a place in the knockout rounds of the competition once it resumes. They currently sit in third place in Group F at the halfway stage, four points behind joint leaders Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon United.
Hougang’s next game will be in Singapore against the club from Myanmar and that will be pivotal to their hopes of progressing to the next phase.
“That’s the make or break for us,” said Anderson. “If we can win that game and then go away and get a result against Ho Chi Minh City then we have a chance. At the start of the season we sat down and said: We want to win the Singapore Premier League and we want to try to get through the group phase of the AFC Cup.
“Let’s see what happens. Hopefully we can get back playing and we can get a result and push on.”
Photos: AFC, AFP
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