Amirul Hadi: I never stopped trying to impress Malaysia coaches

Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) midfielder Amirul Hadi Zainal is delighted to be back in the Tigers' set-up five years after his last appearance and tells Vijhay Vick how he is eager to repay Ong Kim Swee’s faith in him.

Eager to oversee a rebuilding attempt to the Malaysian squad, Ong – given a two-year contract at the start of the year – has already introduced several fresh faces to the squad.

Matthew Davies, Azrif Nasrulhaq, Nazirul Naim, Fazly Mazlan, Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik and Brendan Gan have made their international debuts. Two more, Malacca’s Khair Jefri Jones and PDRM’s Abdul Latiff Suhaimi join the national team for the first time this month.

The inclusion of 29-year-old Amirul defeats the idea of injecting fresh blood, but as Ong stressed when naming his squad, it was difficult to overlook the form Amirul has been. 

It is also an indication that as much as there are plans to revitalise the aging squad with youth, experience and form will not be overlooked.

Five years without an international appearance may have put some off, but not Amirul, who last played for Malaysia in the World Cup qualifiers against Singapore in July 2011.

“It never once crossed my mind that I’ll never don the Malaysia jersey again,” Amirul told FourFourTwo.

“A footballer must keep that desire to play for the country no matter what injuries they suffer. It was a tough period spending a lot of the last two years injured but I always kept that desire to play international football again.

“I need to keep working hard though. A call-up alone is not enough. I want to remain in the team for time to come and make a contribution. If given a chance to play, I’ll have to show my worth to the team.”

Amirul was part of the 2009 SEA Games and 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup winning squads. He has scored seven goals for Malaysia in 31 appearances.

The Selangor product moved to the Southern Tigers after helping Pahang end their 21-year wait for the Malaysia Cup in 2013. Two injury-laden seasons threatened to end his stay down south but Amirul got a break in the Malaysia Cup last year as Gomez rotated his squad to keep them fresh for what proved to be a successful AFC Cup campaign.

Amirul scored two goals for the club but their run in the Malaysia Cup were halted by Felda United in the quarter-finals. Amirul’s showing convinced the club to keep him and he has repaid JDT with three goals in 2016 already.

The central midfielder has also moved up the ranks and is now rotated with skipper Safiq Rahim and Singapore international Hariss Harun for two starting positions in midfield.

Amirul credits the infrastructure at the club, Gomez and the hard work he put in as the catalyst for his turnaround at JDT.

“The long-term injuries I suffered was frustrating to say the least. My friends, coaches at the club and physiotherapist got me going again, plus a lot of hard work, of course,” said Amirul.

“Gomez gives a lot of pointers too and I have improved tremendously. I’m more mature now and realise that I need to adapt to strategies a lot quicker.

“I was very attacking previously but I didn’t have positional discipline and was often all over the place. I’ve become more disciplined at JDT.”

Amirul also expressed his hunger to pick up more trophies after winning the FA Cup this month. He has already added two Malaysia Super League (MSL) winning medals to the back-to-back wins he enjoyed with Selangor in 2009 and 2010.

The Malaysia Cup is the only trophy Amirul has yet to win at JDT, an unwanted streak he hopes to end this season.