Darren Lok, One-on-One: Setbacks, Southern Tigers and ignoring Shebby

Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) Darren Lok was given the international nod ahead of club-mate Ahmad Hazwan Bakri in September, prompting a debate over whether the English-born forward is suited to a role of leading the line on his own.

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The former Eastbourne Borough striker arrived in Malaysia in May 2016 but was made to wait until September before making his JDT II debut.

He was then picked for the national team the very same month and played in Harimau Malaya’s disastrous AFF Suzuki Cup campaign.

It hasn’t been the easiest first year in Malaysia, having to wait for my passport and then dealing with my long injury

Injury in the 2017 pre-season saw him only make a return in July, but the now fully-fit 26-year-old spoke to Vijhay Vick about his time in Malaysia so far, representing Harimau Malaya and the criticism he received from former international Serbegeth Singh.

FourFourTwo: How has your first year in Malaysia been?

DL: I have loved every minute of my first year in Malaysia. It has not gone as smoothly as I had hoped, but looking at where I am at the moment, I am very pleased so far.

What are the changes – on and off the field – that you have had to endure since leaving England?

DL: It did take a while to adapt to living in Malaysia both on and off the field, the weather was hard to adapt to at first but after a few months you soon get used to playing under this weather.

Lok is accustomed to the physicality of English football

In terms of football, I have said in the past about how surprised I was about how much good passing most teams like to play in Malaysia, coming from England where the football is a lot more varied with some teams playing a lot of long balls, which sometimes can be just as effective.

I'm confident that I can do a job of being a lone striker

FFT: You’ve had a few setbacks so far, but were the Malaysia call-ups for last year’s AFF Suzuki Cup and again in August a confidence booster?

DL: Yes it has been. It hasn’t been the easiest first year in Malaysia, having to wait for my passport and then dealing with my long (lower leg) injury at the start of this year … it was a setback.

I have always tried to remain positive when these things happen and there is no point in dwelling on them.

I am looking ahead now and focusing on the future.

FFT: There are suggestions that your best position is playing off a lead striker, what are your thoughts?

DL: In terms of position, I am happy to play wherever the coach puts me.

The striker feels right at home with the Southern Tigers

Sometimes it can be easier to play with another striker and to be able to have somebody to link up with and also make runs off.

However, I am also confident that I can do a job of being a lone striker.

The opportunity to represent Malaysia and to play international football was very appealing

Serbegeth (Shebby) criticised you on television after the Suzuki Cup. What were your thoughts then and do you feel the need to prove a point?

DL: I did not pay much attention to it to be honest. I do not feel the need to prove a point. I am confident in my ability and people are always going to have opinions in football.

FFT: What was your motivation coming to Malaysia and what are your aspirations for club and country?

DL: Playing part-time football in England and being given the opportunity to come to Malaysia and play full-time football was a chance that I could not turn down – to do something that I love full-time.

I also visited JDT before I moved here and seeing what an amazing club it was with great facilities and a fantastic vision for the future made me excited about a possible future here.

The Suzuki Cup was a disappointing time for the Tigers

Also the opportunity to represent Malaysia and to play international football was very appealing.

FFT: Do you see your mixed-heritage background as an advantage in Malaysian football, especially considering local forwards seldom get picked?

DL: I do not think that the fact I am mixed heritage should give me an advantage here.

I have to prove that I am capable and I must perform well in order to get picked.

Coming from England where football can be very physical, I hope I can bring some of that experience here and help both club and country.

FFT: Tell us about JDT – What do you love about the club, what do you dislike or why did you choose to sign with the Southern Tigers?

DL: My time at JDT has been a very happy one so far. Everybody who works for the club is very passionate and the way the club is run is fantastic.

Like I said it is a huge club and it has great ambitions. Everyone at the club is hungry for success and that is very important. I am very much looking forward to helping the club achieve more success in the future.