The past two months, while the Malaysia national team was seeking glory in the AFF Championship, one Malaysian was seeking in own pathway to a potential next chapter of his career. Goal can reveal that Zafuan Azeman is now in Italy in a 3-weeks long trial with Italian club Venezia FC.
The club that is based in Venice in the north of Italy, is currently in the second division which is the Serie B. In the current 2018-19 season, the Arancioneroverdi are sitting mid-table is 11th postition from 19 teams in the division.
It is a club that has a long list of well-known former greats who first learned their ropes with Venezia such as Alvaro Recoba, Marco Delvecchio, Salvatore Sirigu, Massimo Taibi and Christian Vieria. Now coached by former Italian international Walter Zenga, Zafuan could look to many big names for inspiration.
Zafuan with the Chairman of Venezia, Joe Tacopina
Goal has the opportunity to sit down with Zafuan before he flew off to Italy in early December and in this exclusive interview, learn to understand just why Zafuan has opted to take a chance abroad instead of accepting one of the numerous lucrative offers he has had from Malaysian Super League and Premier League sides.
"At first I was told by Faidauz (Azhar) who knows my intention to play outside of Malaysia. I don't care whether it's ASEAN, Asia or Europe. When he asked whether I'm interested to go to Europe, of course I jumped at the chance," Zafuan told Goal. "The communication was ongoing, Faidauz was very supportive and due to the relationship with Matt Holland, we were able to find a path.
"Initially it was not confirmed and they only told me to keep myself fit and ready, and that they are working to find me a club over there. So I kept my head down and started working on my own. It was a two months wait before they told me the first piece of good news.
"When Faidauz first told me, I have to admit that I thought he was joking and was just pulling my leg. I'll be lying if I say who Venezia was immediately but I did my research on them and I it was fair to say that I quickly became very excited at the opportunity. That is because Venezia is a big club in Italy, who are constantly either in Serie A or Serie B.
"But I knew it was far from done and I wasn't putting my hopes too high. I just kept on preparing, then the letter came from them. My mind was made up and I signed up. For a Malaysian, this chance doesn't come often. It was then that my excitement went through the roof and was even more motivated to do well."
Faidauz is Zafuan's agent from Exeliq Sports Management who together with Holland managed to convince the decision makers at Venezia to give Zafuan this opportunity. For the 19-year-old who have played for Perlis, Kedah as well as the Malaysia Under-19 teams, he's determined to make the journey to Italy a one way trip.
A former student of the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), the 1.80m tall Zafuan was kept close to the squad in Kedah during the 2018 season but had few opportunities to display his potential at the club who changed three head coaches during the season.
However, it was there that he was imbued with the idea of plying his football outside of Malaysian borders and it was none other than Kedah's more influential duo that incepted the idea into his head.
"When I finished BJSS, I did pre-season with Kedah FA. I got really close to Liri (Liridon Krasniqi) and Sandro (Da Silva) at that time. They came to me and told me not to follow the traits of local players and their mentality. They told me that if I want to reach the level that they are, I have to go out and play. Don't play in your own country. So that is something that has stuck with me ever since.
"All players want big money to get a good life. But if I have enough sleep, a place to stay and enough pocket money - that is good enough for me at the start. Once I start to perform and show what I can do, I'm sure the money will come.
"I want to go out of Malaysia because I'm still young and there's a big opportunity for to learn to be a better player, a better striker than what my career could have gone if I stay at home. Like any player who's given a chance like this, I want to give it my best shot.
"In my time here, I'm giving my 100% and try not to think too much about whether they are giving me a contract or not. Then let's see what the result is. Of course there are Plan B and Plan C but at the moment that is not something that is even crossing my mind."
It has now been more than a week since Zafuan went over to Italy and it would not have been easy for a young player going there on his own during arguably the most difficult weather months in that part of the world.
But the striker is taking everything in his stride as he keeps his eye on the prize - the opportunity to sign for a European club. Given his age, Goal undestand should he be able to impress the watching club, then he will be signed initially to the Primavera squad which is the Under-19s.
The way the training ground is structured, all teams across the age groups train next to each other and Zafuan will have plenty of opportunity to impress the senior coaches at the club and try to move his way up the ladder.
"I'm here for a week now at Venezia FC. They have Under-17, Under-19 and the senior team all training side by side. Which is good for me because all the coaches can see what I'm doing. In the next 5-7 days, there will be friendly matches arranged where I need to prove myself.
"Training has gone well. All the coaches have been good in supporting me. It's -1oC and -2oC degrees and I have adapt fast. Even the coach said some good things on how quickly I adapted. In the last few days before the senior team went away to play Crotone,
"I managed to watched them trained. It was there I was able to meet up with Walter Zenga and Joe Tacopina. It was really fantastic to speak to them personally and hear what they want to do with me."
Zafuan with Walter Zenga
As some Malaysian players have shown in the past, the chance to move abroad is often spurned because of their inability to adapt to the surroundings but on early evidence of what Zafuan has gone through thus far, that looks to be a non-problem for him.
"I really like it here because every day when I wake up in the morning, the air is filled with football. I'm staying in their academy residence with great facilities. All my meals are at the residence.
"At first it took something getting used to because I've always taken rice but now pasta is fast becoming my favourite. I'm even very fond of the morning espresso here. and I've also been able to get around the city of Venice.
"The people here their English isn't at a good communication level as they are very Italian-centric but it is up to me to learn. There are also French players and Swiss players here who I've made friends with at the residence.
'So it's my broken English with their broken English, sometimes we use the phone to translate but I'm doing what I can do," enthused a very excited Zafuan straight from Venice.
In a week where one Malaysian dream were cruelly broken in a cold night in Hanoi, another Malaysian dream arises in the cold of Italy.
Stay Goal as we will continue to bring you more updates of Zafuan's adventure there throughout his trial period with Venezia FC
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