Amirul: "Playing against Malaysia in front of a packed stadium was fantastic, but now I want more"

FFT's Kenneth Tan sits down with Singapore U23 defender Amirul Adli to talk about his football development, representing Singapore at senior level and his hopes for the SEA Games...

Amirul Adli has already tasted top-level international football, but the chance to win a SEA Games gold with the Singapore U23 team is an irresistable opportunity.

It has been a stellar rise for the 19-year-old, who impressed against the likes of Newcastle United and Juventus for the National Football Academy (NFA) U16s in the 2011 Canon Lion City Cup. He duly progressed through the ranks before joining the Courts Young Lions in 2014.

Make no mistake about his affable personality off the field. Once he crosses the white line, he is a no-nonsense and sturdy figure at the back.

Despite his relatively young age, he belies his tender years with his intelligence on the ball and composure in dealing with tight situations – qualities that are well appreciated by coach Aide Iskandar with the defender often one of the first names on the team sheet.

His form has seen him breaking into the national team fold – featuring for the U23s in the Incheon Asian Games, before making his AFF Suzuki Cup debut for the senior team against Malaysia. Now he is set to make his SEA Games bow after being named in Aide’s 20-strong U23 squad.

Before Singapore's first game against the Philippines, he spoke to FourFourTwo on the sidelines of Geylang Field after yet another hard day of centralised training…

It has been months of hard training for the team and yourself. What are your thoughts going into this SEA Games campaign?

The team consists of quite a number of young boys, so I think there’s the desire to win and the passion to embrace the SEA Games. It’s going to be the first time playing this competition for most of the boys, including me, so we’re focusing really hard to do well with the team.

I’m one of the youngest members in the squad besides Adam (Swandi) and Irfan (Fandi), but I certainly don’t feel that way. I’m just another member of the team and we have to do our jobs as professional footballers, which is to get a positive outcome at the end of the day.

As you mentioned, this is going to be your first SEA Games. How are you psyching yourself up for it?

I’ve been watching the team at the previous few SEA Games and I believe they consisted of more experienced boys. From there, I’ve been learning about their maturity, how they take care of themselves, how they prepare on and off the pitch. My seniors like Al-Qaasimy (Rahman) and Shakir (Hamzah) have experience playing at this level, so I’ve been taking advice from them on how we can prepare better for high-level competitions.

Personally I just focus on what I can do for myself and the team, such as how I recover well outside training so that I can be at my optimum efficiency for every training I attend and attain the best results that we can. My aim is to work as hard as I can and not focus too much on outcome, but the process.

Everyone sees you as a calm and unfazed player on the pitch. Is it something that comes naturally to you or have you been working on that?

I think due to my inexperience, I naturally feel nervous but I try not to let it show. If the opponent can see that you’re nervous, it can be uncomfortable to play your own game, so I always force myself not to think about it.

I just try to play my normal game and not put pressure on myself so that I can play well.

Does family support play a part in your assured displays on the pitch?

Of course, it gives me a sense of comfort which can ease my anxiousness before a game. Usually my parents and three brothers will come and support me whenever I play, so it’s good. I know they’ll be at my back to support me.

My older brother will be the one criticising and pointing out my mistakes though, so that I can learn from there. In life, you always need someone to remind you things and knock your head a little – that can only be for my own good at the end of the day.

Main Photo: Football Association of Singapore