From winning reality show and Man Utd trip to dreaming of J-League move - Inside the rise of Aliff Haiqal (exclusive)

Aliff Haiqal, J-League insert
Selangor FC
Despite starting 2020 only as an U-21 squad member, Aliff Haiqal did not take long to convince Selangor that he's ready for first team action.

Selangor's appointment of its technical director Michael Feichtenbeiner as caretaker head coach towards the end of the 2020 Malaysia Super League competition not only helped them rebound from a series of underwhelming results, it also allowed several of their younger players to make their first team debuts under the German's guidance.

One such player was 20-year old midfielder Aliff Haiqal Lokman Hakim Lau, whose competitive Selangor first team debut came in their September 20 league match against UiTM FC, when he replaced K. Sarkunan at the start of the second half. He then went on to make two more league appearances and a Malaysia Cup outing, all as a second half replacement.

It has been a good year for him, especially considering that he had not even started 2020 as their reserve team member, in the Premier League. In fact, before the Covid-19 lockdown and competitions suspension, he had only been on their President Cup (U-21) team.

"I am thankful that I managed to play at a higher level this year. At first I was only an U-21 team member, but I was promoted to Selangor 2 after the lockdown was lifted. Soon enough, my Premier League appearances turned into first team appearances.

"So it was a little frustrating when the Malaysia Cup was cancelled [after only one round was played out]. The team was peaking at the time while our chemistry was just developing, but there's nothing we could do in the end. For now we'll focus on preparing for the next season, and I believe we can go for at least one silverware," said the attacking midfielder in a video interview with Goal.

According to Haiqal, his footballing journey began when his former Selangor state player father Lao Kok Kit (Lokman Hakim Lau after converting to Islam) started training him at age three. He then trained at renowned youth club CIMB-YFA as well as his primary school Jalan Empat National School in Bandar Baru Bangi, before joining the Bandar Penawar Malaysian Sports School, Johor (now Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School) in 2012.

A stint on the third season of the football reality show 'Mencari Ramli' in 2013 ended with him as one of the winners, earning him a learning trip to Manchester United's home ground Old Trafford, as well as early recognition from Malaysian football fans and observers.

This recognition then earned him call-ups to the junior national team, which in turn helped him to get a spot at his first professional club, PKNS FC.

While this year has been a breakout season for Haiqal, it must be noted that it was at PKNS that the youngster made his first ever Super League appearance last season, under then head coach Datuk Rajagobal Krishnasamy.

When PKNS' professional outfit was taken over by Selangor at the end of 2019 with their Malaysian league slot handed to the Red Giants' reserve team, Haiqal, who was still under contract then, was absorbed into their junior team.

"I had joined them after finishing secondary school in 2017. A mate told me about a training spot at PKNS which I joined, and one day one of the coaches there told me to keep training with them. That then ended in me being offered to sign with them, which I did. 

"I am grateful to Datuk Rajagobal for handing me my Super League last year and believing in what I could do. It was our match against Melaka United (July 16, 1-1), and my second league appearance would be against Selangor just days later (July 20, 3-1 defeat). It's so good to hear just a day ago that he has been appointed as the Brunei head coach," expressed the former junior Malaysia international.

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HAIKAL DAPAT PUJIAN RAJAGOBAL, PKNS FC KOMITED BERI PELUANG KEPADA PEMAIN SKUAD PEMBANGUNAN ------ Pemain Piala...

Posted by PKNS FC on Tuesday, 16 July 2019

But what he has achieved in the past two years is only the beginning, and the future is all that the number eight is has eyes on.

"Playing professionally has always been my dream, since my father began training me when I was three.  And now I've made it on to the first team, I have to keep working hard. Of course I want to win a trophy in 2021, but more importantly I want to take the opportunity to learn from the senior players. 

"Within the next five years, I want to be one of the best players in the country, to represent Malaysia at the senior level and to also play abroad. Getting to play in the Japanese J-League would mean a lot to me, as it's one of the best Asian leagues at the moment," explained the youngster.

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