Nazrul: Playing at right-back has made me a better player

Nazrul Nazari believes his new defensive role has made him a more complete footballer this season, although he misses playing as a winger.

The 24-year-old's unexpected emergence at right-back has been one of the LionsXII's highlights of the season thus far.

An electric winger who torments opposition full-backs with his pace, Nazrul found himself having to adapt to a position which he had never played before in his six-year long professional football career.

Many keen observers, including the player himself, thought it was a temporary switch but little did they expect him to flourish in his new role.

Despite Faritz Hameed’s return to fitness and the arrival of Singapore Under-23 captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Nazrul has managed to keep his spot in Fandi Ahmad's starting line-up.

To date, he had made 17 appearances in 21 games across all competitions and also managed to impress Singapore head coach Bernd Stange enough to hand him a first national team call-up in three years.

Speaking to FourFourTwo before his side’s training session at Serangoon Garden Secondary School on Monday evening, Nazrul put his improvement down to sheer hard work.

“Initially it was quite hard to adapt, but it’s up to me myself to decide if I want to play for the team,” he said.

“It was hard to accept playing as a right back because I still want to play as a winger, but it’s also up to me to adapt to a new position and work hard for the team.

“From there with every game I played, I will try to reflect on what I did well and what I didn’t.

“Now I’ve gained a lot of experience as a right back and it’s good that now I can play in two positions, so it’s up to the coaches where they want to put me.

“The only not-so-good thing for me is my lack of height.”

Nazrul Nazari has been a revelation in defence for LionsXII this season. Photo: WX Lim

Fears of a height disadvantage – Nazrul stands at 1.65m tall – have proved to be unfounded so far, as fans noticed in the second half of last Saturday’s 3-0 thrashing of Kelantan FA.

With goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud out of position after challenging Austin Amutu on the edge of the box, Nazrul somehow outjumped both Amutu and Wan Zack Haikal to clear the danger in front of an empty LionsXII net.

“Ah, that one… I cannot believe that I can actually jump that high to head the ball!” he chuckled when reminded of the moment.

“I didn’t expect the ball to go that high up in the air towards our goal, so there’s definitely pressure me to get back but I just tried my best to head it and we ended up not conceding.

“I think it’s all down to timing.”

Nazrul has also been called up to the 23-strong Singapore Selection squad which will take on English FA Cup champions Arsenal in the Barclays Asia Trophy next Wednesday.

Being a fervent Gunners fan himself, he is excited at the prospect of locking horns with world-class players Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud.

However he is also keen to concentrate on the more immediate task of overcoming high-flying Perak FA and continuing the LionsXII’s push for a top-half finish.

“It’s of course a once-in-a-life opportunity to play against Arsenal, but now we’ve to focus against Perak,” said the former Courts Young Lions player.

“It’s going to be one of the toughest games of the season and I’ll be facing Nuri (Nurridzuan Abu Hassan) who is a very determined player down my flank.

“Of course I’ll try my best to stop him and we have to keep our momentum high after the last win.”