SEA Games captain Adib Zainuddin: A student angling for a big move

Adib Zainuddin’s rise has somewhat gone under the radar. While footballers move up the ranks, Adib went the other way by moving from the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) to the third-tier FAM League.

Once even unsure if he would make the starting-11 because of the rise of Dominic Tan at Johor Darul Ta’zim II last year, Adib kept his place in the heart of defence for Malaysia under-22 and was made captain after Kelantan’s Faris Shah Rosli picked up a long-term injury at the end of last year.

I rate myself ready for the MSL and if there is an offer next season, I will take it

“I wanted more playing time so I moved to Felcra this year. I needed to play week-in week-out and not just to make the under-22 squad, but play a key role for the country,” Adib told FourFourTwo.

“Getting plenty of minutes is very important at this stage of my career.

“I rate myself ready for the MSL and if there is an offer next season, I will take it. But for now, the AFC Under-23 qualifiers and SEA Games are where I need to show what I can offer.”

The former Johor FA President’s Cup centre-back joined the Harimau Muda development programme in 2014 before joining UiTM the following year.

Adib moved down a division in order to get regular playing time

It was during his time at UiTM that he decided to further his education while turning out for the University side in the second tier. Adib want to be a top player with brains and brawn.

“I’ve always wanted to be a footballer and I’m so grateful to be here today. I’m also topping that up with an education,” said Adib.

“I’m in my final year of Diploma in Sports Science. I want to be ahead of my peers and increase my knowledge. I think it will help me mature as a player and furthermore, sports science is something I could apply to my career.”

LACKING PREPARATION BUT ADIB STAYS FOCUSED

Like plenty of others in his age group, the qualifiers in Bangkok (July 19-24) and Kuala Lumpur SEA Games in August are what Adib has been looking forward to in 2017.

Yet preparations have been far from smooth.

Preparations for the under-22s have not been smooth

First German Frank Bernhardt was sacked by new Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim in March and Ong Kim Swee, who was coach at the last three Games, was demoted from the senior team for yet another stint with the juniors.

Plans for a centralised training starting July 5 was deferred to July 12 after only six players were released by the respective club.

Despite the challenges the under-22s have faced, they still managed to qualify from a group that contained regional powerhouse Thailand, Indonesia and lowly Mongolia.

That has given Adib and the rest of the Young Tigers a major confidence booster, as they now turned their attentions towards the SEA Games.

The most unlikely captain of Malaysia's squad

“Yes we are leaving things till the last minute but everyone here are professional and need to continue striving. We have our respective employers that came first but I do not want to see that as negative.

“When the going gets tough, the tough must get going. We can do it!” Adib insisted.

‘CAN’T LET OUR GUARD DOWN’

Malaysia won the men’s football gold medal in 2009 and 2011 but have not come close since.

But this could be their year to do so again, having got a favourable draw in the Games after avoiding defending champions Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam in the group stage.

Adib hopes to continue featuring for country

Instead, Malaysia were placed in an ‘easier’ group comprising Myanmar, Singapore, Laos and Brunei.

But the young defender believed that it was safer to assume otherwise, or the Young Tigers could be in for a shock again.

“I cannot agree that it is an easy group … perhaps an easier one, we will still need to work our socks off. Myanmar will be the biggest threat and Singapore, like us, will want to do better after failing to get out of the group in 2015,” said Adib.