By ANGELIN YEOH
WHEN the people at Nike decide to call their global football talent search competition “The Chance”, they probably didn’t expect it to be so aptly named for Rahmat Che Hassim.
According to Rahmat, who is from Kelantan, he has been playing football since he was six, and the competition was literally his last chance to prove he had what it takes to be a professional because at 24, he doesn’t think he’ll get another opportunity like this.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a football player but my parents were against it. Then while I was studying for my degree in civil engineering, I heard about The Chance Malaysia. I just went for it,” he said during an interview in Wisma FAM, Kelana Jaya, Selangor.
Rahmat’s journey in The Chance, a search for the best young undiscovered footballers from around the world to have a stint at FC Barcelona, has not been easy. He failed to make the final cut when the competition was first introduced in 2010.
“I got great advice from (Malaysia coach) K. Rajagopal and national player Safee Sali. The experience was worthwhile. Yes, I was disappointed when I didn’t make the cut, but I didn’t give up.”
Over 6,000 Malaysian youngsters between the age of 16 and 24 took part in this year’s competition. The aspiring footballers had their skills and prowess judged by national under-23 head coach, Ong Kim Swee, the man behind Malaysia’s 2011 SEA Games gold medal.
But when Nike announced the top five participants who would represent Malaysia in the next round, Rahmat’s name didn’t turn up. He narrowly missed out, placing sixth. It seemed like the end of the road for Rahmat.
However, he got a huge slice of luck, and he grabbed it with both hands. Rahmat was given a second chance when one of the finalists had to forfeit his place; and he jetted off to Jakarta, Indonesia to compete with 19 others from around the region, with only one footballer from each country moving on to Barcelona.
Rahmat’s persistence paid off as he emerged as the winner from Malaysia. With that came the opportunity of a lifetime to compete in the Global Final in La Masia, the Barcelona academy that has produced the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
“Of course, I’m still in disbelief. The feeling is just ‘wow’. It’s finally happening for me and I will go all out to impress the coaches at Barcelona.”
Not only did Rahmat achieve his goal of getting a professional football try-out, he also kept his promise to his parents to put his education first.
“When I started doing the try-outs for The Chance, my parents were worried as they felt I would miss out on my studies. They said I wasn’t going to graduate! But I managed to complete my studies before the final call-out and they couldn’t be more proud of me.”
He added that his parents are now fully supportive of his footballing journey. Rahmat said he also hopes to be able to meet his favourite player, Barcelona’s midfield magician, Iniesta.
“If I get the chance to meet him, I’ll say: ‘Hello, my name is Rahmat Che Hassim and I am from Kelantan.’ I’ve been practising that.”