SUCCESS can be defined in many ways. To some, it’s about getting rich; to others, it’s about professional accomplishments. It’s the same with footballers.

I’m sure many of us have parents who set ambitions for us. There are still a lot of parents who would proudly announce that their children are studying medicine, law or accountancy.

That used to be the yardstick for success for many parents.

I grew up defining success like most other people. If you earn a lot of money, own a big house and drive a nice car, you’ve made it.

But now that I’m a bit older – and hopefully a bit wiser – I know my idea of success was completely wrong.

My parents played a pivotal role in helping me understand that. Since I was young, they told me I could pursue my dream of being a professional footballer wholeheartedly, with a few conditions – I wouldn’t neglect my studies, family, friends and Christian faith.

Because of that, I have come to learn that success is being able to do what gives you fulfilment and satisfaction. At the end of each day, if you can look back and say your day was well spent, then you are successful.

But in football (as with any professional sport), players can be easily enticed by promises of instant success.

Most footballers are, after all, young people still trying to navigate their way through life. There are many shady characters out there just waiting to take advantage of them.

Illegal dealings and corruption can make you instantly “rich”, but you taint yourself in the process.

The scandals that have hit FIFA are a perfect example of this. The Panama Papers leak showed that despite Sepp Blatter’s departure, dodgy deals are still rife in the highest echelons of the “beautiful game”.

But what does it matter if you have a million dollars under your bed (or in an offshore account), but can’t look into your children’s eyes without knowing that you have broken the law, and could be prosecuted any time? To me, that is definitely not success.

Malaysian footballers are often faced with similar decisions, where the lines between right and wrong are blurred.

In this file photograph, Reuben flies high as he clears the ball from the Singaporean Lions XII player ― S.S Kanesan/The Star

In this file photograph, Reuben flies high as he clears the ball from the Singaporean Lions XII player ― S.S Kanesan/The Star

For example, a club can offer astronomical sums of money in wages, but the management is poor – they don’t have proper coaching or medical teams. This could lead to players suffering injuries or burnout.

The monetary incentive is good, of course, which is what many would qualify as success. But is it really worth risking your body and long-term career?

I’ll admit that the figure on my paycheck is pretty important to me. We all have responsibilities and mouths to feed.

In that sense, I always look at David Beckham with envy, because football has brought him untold millions.

But at the same time, Beckham is also giving back to society. Say what you want about his ability as a player, but he’s in his 10th year as a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador, and he has constantly involved his family in his charity work. He wants his children to grow up being compassionate for the less fortunate.

I’m glad my parents were just like that – minus the stylish clothes (that’s subjective anyway) and jet-setting lifestyle.

They started a home for orphans and underprivileged children called Desa Amal Jireh 31 years ago, and my family still helps out at the centre in Semenyih, Selangor.

I volunteer there at least twice a week as a stock-keeper, keeping tabs of all donated items. For as long as I can remember, I would carry the bags of rice around as part of my “gym routine”.

My parents are busy people, as most parents are. But despite all their commitments, they still make it a point to have dinner with my sister and I almost every day. We will wind down, joke around and maybe even fight a little, but we’re always enjoying that beautiful communion called family.

So stop and ponder for a moment, and decide not just how successful you want to be, but also what kind of success you want in life.

Reuben is a professional footballer who grew up volunteering at Desa Amal Jireh, a shelter home for orphans and underprivileged children founded by Reuben’s parents. Find out more at

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