BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The evening I walked into the coffee shop where I conducted my interview with Selangor defender Fairuz Abdul Aziz was matchday one of the 2018 Malaysia Super League campaign, with JDT's home match against Kedah in the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup headlining the night.
I thanked him for taking some time off to talk to me, and asked whether he had any plans to catch the evening's matches on television, to make sure that I wouldn't be keep him for too long.
"I don't really watch matches on television," replied the 32-year. "In fact I don't really watch television when I'm home with my wife."
"I do have Astro, but I rarely watch it. I'm not into movies either, so when I'm home I simply spend time by chatting with my wife and playing with our cats.
But his wife, Samihah Yunus, 37, is more than just company. Samihah, now a homemaker, takes a keen interest in his career and assists Fairuz in making choices.
She played a major part in his decision to turn professional, when he received a full-time contract offer from Sime Darby FC ahead of their debut season in the Premier League, in 2011.
"At the time I had dual-income working a day job while playing part-time for Sime Darby, so I didn't really feel like turning pro.
Fairuz (standing, third from left) playing in Sime Darby's first ever competitive match back in 2010, in the FAM League. Photo from Sime Darby
"My concern at the time was that if football did not work out, I'd still have a steady income from my day job at Proton. But she told me, back then when we were not married yet; 'No, you must go (turn pro). You're better at football.' She's different that way", recounted the defender.
And when things were looking up for him at the Giant Killers, Fairuz did the right thing by marrying her in 2012.
On top of this, Samihah assists him with his reading and research, which he conducts from time to time.
"I read up on football every now and then, but when the material in English stumps me I'll ask for help from my wife as she's a bookworm," he remarked. "When I picked up a lengthy injury on my knee towards the end of my stint with Sime Darby in 2013, the club asked me to undergo a surgery.
"But my personal physiotherapist advised against it as there's a risk of exacerbating the injury. Samihah then went to look for more information on the type of injury I had, and asked for second, third and fourth opinions, including from her doctor friend.
"Most of the later opinions advised against undergoing operation, while one the doctors we talked to simply suggested rehabilitation and a gel injection. We went home, she looked up the contents of the gel online and found out that one of them is steroid, which may cause dependency. She Googled the contents of the gel one-by-one and even took the time to ask her friends!
"So I then simply opted for rehabilitation. However, the club did not believe that was sufficient and cut me from the team, and I joined Kuala Lumpur for the 2015 season."
That was not the first time that the defender was cut from the team. His first stint with Selangor as a reserve player had ended in 2006, and he joined semi-pro side Proton FC in the FAM League, under former Selangor man and Singapore international, the late Razali Alias.
The club, now defunct, were owned by national carmaker Proton, and Fairuz was also given a desk job at Proton's factory in Shah Alam, where he first met Samihah, who was then a work colleague.
"I was placed in the research and development department," he said. "And that's where I met my wife, as her workstation was only three desk over from mine.
"That was an interesting time for me, as that was the first time that I had a job. My department was involved in safety and crash-testing as well track tests. I got to see those crashes, and also saw the cars being raced on the test track in the Shah Alam compound."
His marriage too is a major factor in his career decisions, which is why Fairuz has played for only Klang Valley teams.
When his contract with Sime Darby was not extended, he received an offer to join Melaka United in the FAM Cup ahead of the 2015 season, before he opted to sign for Kuala Lumpur (KL) instead.
"I was offered a place by the Melaka head coach at the time, Mat Zan Mat Aris, and they were at the time still in the FAM Cup," revealed Fairuz. "I had a meeting with him and was floored by the salary offered, as it was quite generous. But I had doubts because that meant having to live apart from my wife. He said, 'Don't you worry, I live in the Klang Valley too. On the weekends we'll travel home together in my car.'"
"After the meeting I went home, and another offer from KL arrived, who at the point were in the Premier League. At the time they just hired Ricardo Formosinho as head coach, who is now a coach at Jose Mourinho's Manchester United. The money was not as good as Melaka's offer, but I was impressed with him and the plans he laid out for KL.
"I discussed matters with Samihah. Of course from the footballing stand point, there was a risk of me not being noticed by scouts anymore if I dropped down from the MSL to the third tier to join Melaka, but there was also a concern about the effects of living apart on our marriage.
"We've been married for two years at the time, so I was worried that being apart would put a strain on our marriage. You know how sometimes married couples fight more when they live away? We didn't want that to happen to us. I decided to join KL and called Mat Zan, telling him I wouldn't be joining Melaka."
Until now, two seasons into his third stint with the Red Giants, Samihah remains Fairuz's chief supporter and critic.
"She lets me know if I've been playing well or not, and sometimes it's not even my performance that she comments on. I listen to it but when she criticises me too harshly, I do have to tune her out!" said the defender with a laugh.
With Fairuz moving up the pecking order this season at Selangor due to the departures of Rizal Fahmi Rosid and Bunyamin Umar, it seems that he will get a lot more feedback from his wife.
Fairuz training with Selangor in their pre-season in January.
Our interview had run for almost three hours, and in the end we had to cut it short as his cellphone kept ringing.
"I'm sorry, I dropped my wife at her sister's house somewhere nearby on my way to the training earlier, and she's been waiting for me to pick her up to go home together," apologised Fairuz after eventually answering the call, and our long chat came to an end.
But that was not the only time that his devotion to his wife and protectiveness were on display to me. A few days later, while transcribing the interview, I sent Fairuz a text message, requesting a photo of him and Samihah together to be published in the article.
"I'm very sorry, I don't think I can do that. Privacy concerns, I hope you understand," was his response.