Interviews

Nor Azam: Young Tiger keeping feet on the ground, but says best is yet to come

Pahang midfielder Nor Azam Abdul Azih is receiving plenty of praise for his SEA Games performances with the Malaysia Under-22 side, especially after being a game-changer against Singapore. He tells FourFourTwo of his rise and desire to do more for both club and country.

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Azam has come a long way since he was deemed surplus to requirements for Razip Ismail’s Harimau Muda B at the end of the 2015 season.

He returned to Pahang, the side he had played with during his youth career, and following a stroke of good fortune in the initial stages of his professional career in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), Azam never looked back.

Confidence levels are improving and we don’t intend to take our foot off the accelerator

Still underrated by many, Azam’s stocks are fast rising because of his standout performances in the ongoing SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

For the Pahang fans, his display comes as no surprise.

Azam received his breakthrough in Pahang when Azidan Sarudin picked up an injury early in the 2015 season. He took full advantage of it and the more experienced Azidan found himself on the bench once he recovered.

“Since I was young I’ve only wanted to play football. I’ve never played for Malaysia in any other age-group apart from the under-22s and I guess I’m hungry,” Azam told FourFourTwo.

“It felt great to be included in the senior team by Nelo Vingada in June. Yes, I didn’t get to play but the experience was good and I am still improving. I know I have to be patient and keep pushing for a bigger role.

“The experience I got with Pahang by playing in the AFC Cup in 2015 was something I hold on to. In many ways, it has helped me grow as a player.”

Azam likened himself to Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, citing they both have similar roles for their respective teams.

“I like Xabi Alonso a lot and used to take pointers or even try to replicate what he does. These days, it’s Modric …. we play in the same position,” said Azam.

‘I CAN DO BETTER’

The former Pahang state sports school product has been earning plaudits for his performances at the Games, where Malaysia have targeted the gold medal.

They are on track, having navigated the group stage with four straight wins, facing Indonesia in a huge semi-final on Saturday night.

Azam started in the opening 2-1 win over Brunei and came off the bench at half-time to inspire Malaysia to a 2-1 win over arch-rivals Singapore in the second match, scoring the equaliser and adding bite to Malaysia’s midfield against Singapore.

I want to be part of the team Pahang is building and it would be great if the team is built around me

- Nor Azam Abdul Azih

Those efforts gave him a spot in the starting line-up in the third group match against Myanmar, when he was Malaysia's best central midfielder until being taken off at the hour mark.

By that time the hosts were already two goals up and Azam was taken off for his own protection as he was on the verge of a sending off for a series of offences.

“The first game was something we needed to put behind us … we didn’t play as well as we can and we struggled to get into rhythm. Even the second game, we only really got going in the second half. The third was much better from the start.

“I’m not satisfied with my performance yet. I know I can do better and need be playing my best football when we get to the semi-final and hopefully the final.

“Fortunately, our performances have only been improving from the first match. Confidence levels are improving and we don’t intend to take our foot off the accelerator.”

[NEXT: Azam talks about his future at club level]