On June 22, 2022, Safee Sali and Prime Sports NFT came together to unveil a set of 10 NFTs called ‘Sepuluh’. It was initiated to capture the fondest memory of Safee at his peak in the Harimau Malaya jersey via digital art.
“[The NFTs] enable fans to own a piece of my story as a collectible,” stated Safee during the launch. “My fans have been the pillar of support throughout my career and the ‘Sepuluh’ NFT opens the doors to forging closer bonds with them.”
For those who may not be familiar, Safee Sali is well-known in the Malaysian football world for his innumerable accomplishments.
He primarily plays forward for various football teams, and he also represented the Malaysia national team from 2006 until his retirement in 2017.
He is the only Malaysian footballer to have scored in four consecutive AFF Championship tournaments, and he is currently Malaysia’s all-time leading goalscorer in the tournament, earning a golden boot for his best performances.
The NFTs were created by Nicholas Chuan, who considers himself a big fan of Safee Sali. Nicholas is a digital artist from Penang whose portfolio includes illustrations of international sports giants such as FIFA, UEFA, FC Bayern, and Formula 1’s Red Bull Racing.
The renowned footballer worked closely with the digital artist to develop ‘Sepuluh’, which was then minted and auctioned off on OpenSea by Prime Sports NFT.
Prime Sports NFT is an organisation dedicated to bridging the worlds of sports, arts, and culture, as well as providing opportunities for athletes and spearheading fan engagement initiatives.
Since there is no shortage surrounding stories of Safee’s crowning accomplishments, we turned the attention of this story to Nicholas, the 19-year-old artist whose career has just begun.
Discovering his talents
Nicholas’ art career stemmed from his interest in designing various types of artwork during his spare time. In primary school, he would buy tons of exercise books and start sketching a series of comics in his class.
“I remembered showing my classmates and my family about my creation,” he reflected. “Everyone was being very supportive towards me and the comics I created, and it gave me a huge confidence boost.”
When he was 14 years old, he stumbled upon the football community on Twitter, where he discovered that there were people who published fan-made edits and designs about athletes and footballers.
It’s also around this time that Nicholas’s dad installed Photoshop on his old laptop, which prompted the young Penangite to explore his artistic abilities, and it eventually became his self-taught hobby.
“Since then, I kept on developing different art styles to broaden my skill set,” said the artist.
It wasn’t until 2020, during the MCO, that he was given ample time to delve deeper into more daring works. It was also then that he uncovered his talent for illustration in particular.
A thing for arts and sports
The designer shared that he had played quite a bit of football himself, and had been a huge Manchester United supporter since he was nine years old.
It’s common for children to say that they want to be superstar footballers when they grow up. But, not everyone gets to fulfil this dream (myself included). Being as good as Christiano Ronaldo or Leonardo Messi is a hundred-to-one shot.
For Nicholas, he acknowledges that his strength does not lie with physical sports, but that didn’t mean he should stop loving sports.
“I am not as good as my other friends,” he admitted. “So I decided to shift my focus to art a little bit more.”
And indeed, art proved to be his own way of taking part in sports.
Rise to fame
His fame began when he designed and posted an artwork of the famous Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka, who was ranked No. 1 in 2019 by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and was the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles.
Nicholas also regards the artwork as his proudest piece of art. “I can say it helped me kickstart my career as a designer, and it played an important role in my exposure to the creative industry.”
Upon designing a series of other football-related artworks, the artist continued to receive bursts of fame and support from many sports fans on social media, pointing to the power of fandom.
“I didn’t expect the community to be so big,” he expressed. “I also had no idea that my artwork was appealing to a lot of people as well.”
That’s no surprise though, as even to my eyes, his clean lines, high-contrast colours, and general composition serve to create an attention-grabbing and dynamic piece each time.
One by one, clients from various sports industries began to pour in, each requesting a collaboration. That’s when Nicholas realised he needed to broaden his artistic horizons to cover other kinds of sports.
Aside from football, he has received attention for his Formula 1 Red Bull Racing artwork collection, which the artist has stated that he is personally rooting for in the world of car racing.
Colouring his dreams
Though there’s proven interest in his work, the young artist has no plans to convert his personal artworks into NFTs. However, “If clients are willing to collaborate on a project together, I am open to it!” he told Vulcan Post.
According to Nicholas, the agreements were typically based on a flat fee, seeing as royalties are more difficult to work with when it comes to contracts.
In the next year or two, he envisions setting up a printing store and, hopefully, being able to establish a digital agency to expand the production of his company, Chuan Graphics.
“The steps for me to get there is a challenging task that’s for sure,” he remarked. “But as my portfolio is growing, hopefully I can reach my goal in the near future.”
Featured Image Credit: Nicholas Chuan