What made you choose to further your career in Malaysia?
In the past two years I played in Malaysia for AFC Cup games and from those games the passionate crowds and love for football here was very evident and I just knew I had to experience the league. I believe it was my destiny to be here. I had offers from several other countries in Asia and the UK but followed my gut instinct as I do when i'm at a cross roads in my career.
How are you adapting to the Malaysian culture – i.e food, climate, people:
I am adapting well, I believe its important to embrace the culture and new surroundings as I did when I played and lived in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Being a Muslim I love the fact I can find halal food everywhere, the biryanis where I live are amazing! The climate is not a problem as I have experience of similar weather from my time in Thailand. Malaysia is such a beautiful country which has some great places to visit. I'm here to work first and foremost but when I have spare time I hope to sample what the different states have to offer.
What’s the best thing about Pahang, and the country, thus far?The best thing is the relaxed, calm and peaceful environment in Kuantan, it's an ideal location to focus fully on football. Having had two years of fast and furious city life in Hong Kong this is a welcome change. I like the fact I'm only a short flight away from KL and other states. The number one thing I love the most is the food, I love eating with the locals because that way I feel right at home. I can see myself and family living in Malaysia for the next five years.
What is your personal target for this season, and how do you see your team doing?
Football is a team game and the team success is more important than any indivudual target or accolades. As a defender I pride my self on clean sheets so I want to keep as many as possible. In the past two years I have had the taste of success and lifting trophies so hopefully that can continue here. I want to win a trophy so next year Pahang can play in the AFC Cup.
Could you name a team-mate in particular who would be integral to your team’s success this season, and why?
I think we have several difference makers and match winners. Alex (Azamuddin), Gopi and Dickson will cause opposition defenders problems with their combination of pace, trickery, strength and ability. I would say Pahang is a team of hard workers all pulling in the same direction, that's more important than any single player.
What are your primary concerns with Malaysian football?
I don't have any concerns with Malaysian football. Everyone who I spoke to only has positive things to say about the people, the affection towards import players and how the clubs take care of the families. The season timings work out well with the Ramadhan break inbetween, which is good for Muslim players, and the Christmas period during pre-season good (which is good) for import players.
What would be your advice to footballers on how to attract attention from talent scouts and clubs?Players need to learn to sell themselves and make things happen instead of being totally dependant on agents. It depends how hungry the player is and if he is prepared to do whatever it takes. When I was younger I wrote to every London club requesting a trial, all clubs had a full quota but I never gave up and eventually a door opened. I will have a company set up fairly soon which will assist player source opportunities in Asia and how to cope with the transitions involved.
Ryan Giggs does yoga, what is your regime for keeping fit all these years?
He (Giggs) is the perfect role model for every player, to continue to play until 40 at the highest level is remarkable. I believe in training hard, lots of stretching, correct diet but also respecting the body's need for recouperation. The clubs expect players to be fit so it's up to us to make sure we look after our body. I like to do gym work if we dont have back back games because strength and conditioning is very important.
How do you handle the limelight and what do you do to de-stress?
Its important to have a balanced life and some time to your self or with family to escape, relax and re-charge. The physical and mental demands of being a professional footballer are ever increasing, over the years we have witnessed several cases of players reverting to gambling and drinking.
As players, we appreciate the support of the fans and must respect that they work hard all week and pay to watch us play, so the limelight we get is very much appreciated. Personally I like to spend days off with my family and enjoy some new destinations wherever I am living.
Aysha Ridzuan is the in-house writer & sports production professional for Astro SuperSport in Kuala Lumpur.