Jacob Mahler is a trooper.
Throughout the six-hour-long shoot, which includes five outfit changes, countless poses for various different frames, and interviews on and off camera, the 22-year-old national footballer does not once ask for a break. “I try my best to put my all in everything that I do, and I want to make sure that I get the job done right and not waste everyone’s time,” he says. “From when I was young, my parents taught me that if I want to do something, and have agreed to it, I must give my 100 percent. That is something that has stuck with me all these years.”
It is this life lesson from his Danish father and Singaporean Chinese mother, alongside his talent and professionalism, that has propelled him forward in his career as a footballer. At 18, in just under eight months, Mahler earned the call-up to transition from playing in the Under-18s to playing in the big leagues with the national team. Then, he was named the Captain of the Young Lions Under-23 team—a role he was looking forward to holding at this year’s Southeast Asian (Sea) Games.
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But barely a month to the semi-finals qualifying match against Malaysia in Hanoi, Mahler received devastating news that would take him out of the regional competition. Recalling that fateful moment, Mahler says: “I heard a pop in my knee, but I could still walk and put pressure on my legs with minimal pain at that time. So I thought it was just a strain and nothing serious, and that I would be able to make it back for the game after resting for a few weeks.” To be sure, Mahler then went for a check-up the next day and, after an MRI scan, confirmed the seriousness of his injury.
He had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus while representing the Young Lions against Tampines Rover FC in the AIA Singapore Premier League. “I was in a daze at first and then when it finally set in, I broke down in tears,” he shares. “It was very sad news because the Sea Games is a big deal and, as captain, I was really looking forward to leading the country and bringing some glory to Singapore.”
The injury, which required him to undergo surgery, will also see him off the field for the rest of the year. Despite the setback, he has taken things in his stride, noting that it was nothing he can do anything about, except to make sure that he “works hard to fully recover and start afresh next year”.
To hear him say it, it is clear that Mahler, who is currently at the tail end of serving his National Service, is passionate about football. It is a passion that began at the age of seven, when he watched his first football game on TV with his father. “I remember enjoying watching the game with him and wanting to play,” he says. “So I told my father that I wanted to do that.”
It did not take long before he was enrolled into the National Football Academy (Singapore), where he received formal training in the sport he loves. The support from his parents has been instrumental in getting Mahler, who is an only child, to where he is today. He shares that his father would drive him to all the training sessions, and both his parents attend all his matches. “While my dad is pretty chill, I can always hear my mum screaming from the stands—especially when I get knocked down,” he says, laughing. “She’s a small Chinese woman, but she screams loud and I can always distinguish her voice in the sea of chaos.”
A self-declared private person, Mahler, who holds a diploma in aerospace electronics from Temasek Polytechnic, says he is a homebody and likes to stay in rather than spend nights out. He also keeps his circle of friends small, and counts the Fandi siblings, Irfan and younger brother Ikhsan, as some of his best friends, often sharing key life moments with one another via a WhatsApp group chat, as the two are currently based in Thailand.
He stresses that he is not as fashionable as them, though he tries his best. “They have definitely given me some style advice, and we would share looks we like from Instagram and try to emulate them”. He describes his own off-duty style as laid-back and casual. And while he likes layering and would try to wear sweaters and jackets over his outfits, the Singapore weather makes that difficult most of the time. So, like most young men his age, Mahler prefers wearing oversize t-shirts and tailored pants or jeans.
His style role model? Twenty-three-year-old French footballer Kylian Mbappé, the star striker of French football club Paris Saint-Germain, who was recently named the new ambassador of Dior Men. “He’s a great player and his style off the field is always on point,” says Mahler. “He’s definitely someone I look up to. Maybe one day, I’ll get there.”
Slowly but surely, though he is still getting used to being recognised when he is out and about. “It feels surreal to me when people come up wanting to have their pictures taken with me or wanting my autograph. I’m not going to lie: It does feel good,” Mahler admits, “but I still have a long way to go.”
For now, Mahler is learning to enjoy his downtime and taking things easy, as he undergoes rehabilitation and strength training. Looking on the bright side, he says this has allowed him to slow down and given him a bit more time to spend with his loved ones—something his gruelling schedule had not afforded him the past few years.
“It’s hard because training is always intense, and coupled with the past two years of National Service, I barely ever have much time. But it’s a sacrifice that comes with the territory,” he reveals. “The next few months will also give me time to watch and study the game more, and to see how I can be better when I finally get back on the field.”
When asked what he is looking forward to the most, other than the much-needed rest, Mahler lets out a sheepish, boyish grin. While he remains tight-lipped on the details, the Young Lions captain shares: “Definitely more time with the girl I’m dating. She’s very understanding but is now very happy that I get to see her more often than I used to.”
Photographed by Phyllicia Wang
Styled by Jeffrey Yan
Makeup and hair: Wee Ming using Chanel and Schwarzkopf Professional