BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Having turned in a revelatory performance in the AFC U19 Championship qualification recently, Malaysia U19 playmaker Nik Akif Syahiran Nik Mat looks to be staying in Kota Bharu for the 2018 season.
Initial attention towards head coach Bojan Hodak's Young Tigers had been directed towards Kedah's Akhyar Rashid and JDT II's Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak, both of whom had been playing club football at the senior level.
Akif meanwhile had been playing exclusively at the youth level for Kelantan in 2017, and in October had helped the club reach the President's Cup semi-final stage. However Akif stole the show with his playmaking abilities in the qualifiers that was held in Paju, South Korea earlier this month.
The midfielder shined in Malaysia's 3-1 win over Timor Leste and their 4-1 thumping of regional rivals Indonesia, combining particularly well with Akhyar to provide assists and defence-splitting passes. Most importantly, his performance helped the team qualify for the finals next year, and he too bagged one goal throughout the whole tournament.
Highlights of Malaysia's 4-1 win over Indonesia.
His performance attracted Malaysian fans' attention online, and many of them wasted no time in demanding their clubs sign the 18-year old for the 2018 season.
But it seems that they all may be up for a disappointment, as the Red Warriors have announced that he will be promoted to their senior team next season.
In a post on the club's social media, Akif expressed his gratitude towards the club's belief in him with the promotion, as well as his desire to cement his place among the more senior and established squad members.
"Praise Allah it is my time, and thank you Kelantan Football Association (KAFA) for giving me the opportunity and believing in me to play in the 2018 Super League. I am young and there is still a lot to learn, so I will use this opportunity to pick up more experience and serve my home state.
"It will be hard to play with a team in the top tier and very different from the President's Cup squad, but I want to adapt and grow my confidence to help Kelantan," the post quoted Akif as saying.
On top of the youngster's promotion, the Red Warriors president Bibi Ramjani Ilias Khan also confirmed that former head coach Zahasmi Ismail's services will be retained, but the terms will be finalised at a later time.
Zahasmi had led the team from the start of the season, but was relieved of his duties as head coach days before their last league match of the season; an away encounter to Melaka United that they needed to win in order to beat relegation.
Thai coach Santhit Bensoh took over for the match, and the Red Warriors defeated the Mousedeers 3-1 in dramatic fashion, scoring all three of their goals in the final 15 minutes of the match.
"His (Zahasmi's) services are still needed because he is a good coach and has been sincere and accommodationg in helping the team. His contract will run out at end of this month and he is still subject to the terms of his contract. We will hold a meeting with him soon," she was quoted in another post on the page.