“OUTRAGEOUS free kick.”

“One of the best free kicks we’ve ever seen.”

That’s just a sample of news reports everywhere, from Vietnam to Spain, which overflowed with praises for footballer Mohd Faiz Subri for the goal he scored in a Malaysian Super League match between Penang and Pahang in February 2016.

Even before he was named winner of the 2016 FIFA Puskas Award, UK-based The Independent was already predicting his victory, saying: “The strike by Faiz Subri will be hard to top when it comes to the goal of the year award.”

Faiz, who was 29 then, recalled in a recent interview that he had gone home the night after the match without feeling anything out of the ordinary.

“After the game, we celebrated the win against Pahang, I went home, I went to bed as though nothing had happened,” he said.

But the next day, he was swamped by text messages and phone calls congratulating him as video footage of his free kick had gone viral.

Fans were mesmerised by the way the ball was heading towards one corner but ended up deceptively in the other, leaving the Pahang goalkeeper – and football fans around the world – flabbergasted.

Or, as Australia’s ABC News described it when he was named a contender for the award:

“Mohd Faiz Subri, of Malaysian Super League side Penang, was nominated for a 35m free kick in which the ball dipped and swung in a bewildering fashion to leave the goalkeeper stranded.”

But Faiz felt differently at first.

“I honestly did not think that the free kick was special. To me, it was like any other normal free kick I used to take before this.”

But it was eventually picked for the Top 100 and went on to the Top 50 before he was shortlisted as the three finalists for the Puskas Award, which is given by FIFA to the player judged to have scored the best goal of the past year.

He got the most online votes from the public at 59.46%, far ahead of Brazil’s Johnath Marlone Azevedo da Silva (22.86%) and Venezuela’s Daniuska Rodriguez (10.01%).

And with that, he became the first Asian to be honoured with the award, which was named after Hungarian striker Ferenc Puskas and first won by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

Till today, the father of three says that fans can still recognise him in public as the man who scored that beautiful goal.

“And people would tag me on Facebook if there is an amazing goal scored by players elsewhere,” said Faiz, who has signed on to play for the Panthers in Penang next year.

Faiz said he was stunned when the award was given to him.

“At first when I saw my name on the stage screen, I was shocked for a while. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Recounting the magical experience, Faiz said initially he did not expect to be nominated, what more end up as the top three contenders.

“The moment was like a dream to me,” he said.

He has fond memories of the award ceremony which was held in Zurich, Switzerland, in January 2017.

“Honestly, I never imagined I would be there, standing shoulder to shoulder with world-class footballers in Zurich.

“I felt then that finally, the world of football was taking note of our progress,” he added.

He said being among the giants of football made him swell with pride that he could bring recognition to the country’s name in the sport.

That night, he said he was treated like a VVIP and was in awe of the grand celebration.

“From the start until the end of the event, I was treated like royalty. It was an experience that I will never ever forget and one that I will always cherish,” he said.

He was also delighted to meet Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi there.

His biggest dream came true that night when he had a backstage encounter with his idol Ronaldo.

“That really made my day,” said Faiz.

For someone whose regular “office wear” is a jersey and shorts, he admitted to feeling slightly odd to be wearing a tuxedo for the night.

“But when I saw the footballers in tuxedos as well, I didn’t feel awkward anymore,” he said.

In fact, prior to the event in Zurich, he had attended a Football Association of Malaysia function in which he wore a tuxedo as well.

“So, it did not take me much time to get used to it.” And mind you, he looked very fine in it, too.

Source: The Star