Chicken rice out, celery soup in: How Hassan Sunny became S’pore’s most capped goalkeeper
SINGAPORE – From 93kg and a 38-inch waistline to a fit 85kg and size 32.
That transformation for Hassan Sunny came about not because of some slimming product; it resulted from a change in diet and a huge dose of discipline. Those are key reasons behind the 39-year-old’s longevity that has helped him become Singapore’s most capped goalkeeper.
Hassan earned his 106th and 107th caps in June and September’s friendlies against the Solomon Islands and Tajikistan respectively, which took him past David Lee’s 105 caps.
Over the next week, Hassan will be Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya’s trusted man between the sticks for the two-legged World Cup first-round qualifier against Guam.
The 157th-ranked Republic face world No. 201 Guam at the National Stadium on Thursday before the return leg five days later in Harmon.
Hassan, who earned his first cap in February 2004, two months shy of turning 20, said he had found out about his latest achievement on social media.
“Becoming the most capped goalkeeper had never crossed my mind,” he said, adding that he hopes to stay in the game for as long as possible, while regarding records as a “bonus”.
There have been several sacrifices made to get here for a man nicknamed “superman” in local circles. His kryptonite was chicken.
Hassan can’t remember the last time he had chicken rice. It used to be his favourite dish which he would eat a few times a week. He also admitted to being able to wolf down a box of 18 pieces of chicken wingettes and drumettes from a fast-food joint – in one sitting.
These days, chicken rice is swopped for a bowl of fishball celery soup and a small serving of brown rice.
What changed his mindset were two anterior cruciate ligament injuries on his right knee within 11 months – first, May 2011, then March 2012. At that time, Hassan weighed 93kg and had a waist size of 38. Being out of the game for two years made him realise that if he wanted to have a long career, he had to change his habits.
A gradual reduction in food intake led to a full vegan diet in 2019. More recently, he incorporated fish into his meals as he had noticed that he was losing some muscle mass.
Hassan listens to his body, quite literally.
Every morning, he will do some stretching if any area of his body feels tight. It is then followed by a quick yoga session before he heads for club training. On his days off, he hits the gym.
Hassan, who signed a two-season contract extension with Albirex in August, wants to play on for as long as his body allows him to. The mantra is simple: Take care of my body and it will take care of my career.
“It’s hard to decide when to step away from the game. That is the reason why I’m trying my best to follow my career to do what it takes to stay in it,” said the father of four daughters aged 13, eight, five and one.
“I want to retire as someone who has achieved so many things in football, because... I want to have a good story to tell my kids and at a later stage, I would like to share my knowledge with the younger ones.”
Hassan’s professionalism has not gone unnoticed with club coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga having described him as “the most professional player in this country”.
He kept 11 clean sheets in 19 league matches to help Albirex retain their Singapore Premier League title this season, in the process becoming the first player in Singapore to win the domestic league title with four clubs, the others being Tampines Rovers (2011), Warriors FC (2014) and Lion City Sailors (2021).
National coach Nishigaya described him as a role model, adding: “The fact that he continues to perform at the highest level at the age of 39, is testament to the amount of hard work and level of discipline that he puts in on a daily basis.”
The Japanese tactician also said the Guam double-header are “cup finals” and urged his charges “to take full advantage of the home support” on Thursday. Awaiting them is a place in Round 2’s Group C with South Korea, China and Thailand.
Hassan is excited at the prospect of facing top players such as Tottenham Hotspur captain Son Heung-min. He said: “The calendar is such that if we don’t make the next round, we will not have any competitive games for about nine months. It is going to be a big loss if we don’t qualify.
“Even at my age now I want to play against teams that are probably three or four levels above us, which can only improve you as a player.”
While he has a trimmed waistline, one thing that has remained steadfast is Hassan’s hunger to get better.