Akram Mahinan: I left Johor to prove I can play
Three-time consecutive Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) is the place to be at, for now.
The Southern Tigers may have had a stuttering start to their 2017 season but considering the heights they have reached and the fact the club is many steps ahead of other Malaysian teams in just about every department, it is really hard to argue against making your home there.
Things have worked really well. I’m very grateful for that. I had a point to prove when I left JDT
Yet exiting JDT for his home state at the end of the 2016 season was probably the best move Akram Mahinan could have asked for.
“Things have worked really well. I’m very grateful for that. I had a point to prove when I left JDT,” Akram told FourFourTwo.
“I needed to prove that I can cut it in the Malaysia Super League. Everyone at JDT was like that, I’m no different. We wanted to play. My time there was good to some extent. I’m sure the exposure helps me today.
“JDT II didn’t want to extend my contract and I seized the opportunity to go challenge myself at a MSL team. I left to get more first team action and I’m getting those games at Kedah now. I still have a lot more to prove though. Staying consistent will be key.”
Akram has worked his way into Tan Cheng Hoe’s starting line-up since his move up north.
Having grown up in Kulim, a district in Kedah, Akram may have actually played for the Red Eagles a lot earlier had he not been selected for the Harimau Muda programme. Prior to that, he was among those from Kedah that were in the Bukit Jalil Sports School, where the country’s best talents are groomed.
Akram was snapped up by JDT after being released by Harimau in 2013 but was later playing in the second tier Malaysia Premier League with JDT II instead.
The central midfielder earned a promotion to the MSL side in 2016 but found himself back at JDT II after the mid-season transfer window.
The motivating environment in Alor Setar
Akram was initially expected to play a back-up role at Kedah as youngster Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik had more than cemented his place alongside Kosovan Liridon Krasniqi with his consistent performance in 2016.
But Amirul had fitness concerns and Tan called upon Akram to fill the void – a task he not only impressed in, but looked like he had been playing with Kedah for some time.
The Red Eagles can’t have much complaints so far, having taken the MSL by storm and working their way to the top of the standings after eight rounds of matches. Kedah are the only team which has yet to lose in 2017.
“It’s a great start to my career at Kedah … I am back home too. I don’t think I could have asked for a better outcome. We are top of the league and enjoying football,” said the 24-year-old.
“There is no pressure at Kedah, just play … it’s fun. I feel really motivated by the good start and great squad we have. I want to stay consistent throughout the season so we can win things. The nearest trophy is the FA Cup and we are gunning for that.
“It’s good working with Tan and many players I already know … a lot of them are around my age too. The senior players are not many but all of us get along well.”
Dollah’s call came too early, Akram wants regular call-ups now
Akram earned his second international call-up in the scoreless tie against Philippines on March 22, just days short of a two-year anniversary of his first cap in 2015.
Eyebrows were raised when former Tigers coach Dollah Salleh called up Akram as he was playing in the second tier. Then 22 years old, Akram later failed to justify his selection and was hauled off at half-time against Oman as Malaysia lost 6-0.
“It didn’t work so well then but I think I have matured in the last two years. I’ve played more football now and with some of the best players in the country, both at JDT and now Kedah,” said Akram.
“The second call-up got me fired up because getting the opportunity to don the national team jersey is not easy."
Akram, however, may find it harder to get a place in the next call-up as the impending return of former captain Safiq Rahim and Amirul Hadi Zainal will push him further down the pecking order.
Ong Kim Swee is no longer coach and the man replacing him, Mario Gomez, was the same person that demoted Akram back to JDT II last season.
But Akram is not afraid of the challenges to come.
“I need to do my best and ensure I consistently get picked. For that I will have to perform regularly with Kedah in domestic competitions. Taking the chances that come will be vital,” he said.