Fandi wants more from Zul
He often walks with his head bowed. When he does look up, what strikes is his brooding eyes.
It is why LionsXII midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin never appears happy.
Soon after Fandi Ahmad took over as LionsXII coach last December, one of the first questions he asked the rest of the squad was whether Zul had any trouble.
It raised much laughter.
Zul's teammates know he's fine.
He just has a "James Dean thing" going on, explained LionsXII captain, Isa Halim.
The talented 22-year-old has started in all three Malaysian Super League (MSL) matches for the LionsXII this season, as well as the two FA Cup games.
He has been thrust into the playmaker's role, a position he is likely to assume once again when the MSL champions entertain Terengganu in a league encounter at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow.
Even though he has yet to live up to expectations.
Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the team's training session yesterday, Fandi pulled no punches.
"He can give a lot more to this team. He's a very talented player, and with his good physique and technique, I expect him to get on the ball more and orchestrate the midfield," said the former Singapore striker.
"Maybe his problem is a lack of focus.
"Or maybe, there's too much of a burden on him, and that's what's affecting his performances.
"I want him to enjoy playing more. Then we will see him at his best."
Against Pahang in the FA Cup last Saturday, Zul blew hot and cold in the opening period, before drifting out of the game in the second half.
Playing for Singapore against Jordan in Tuesday's Asian Cup qualifier, he cut an anonymous figure in the first half, rarely getting on the ball, but improved after the break.
Last season, Zul chalked up nine appearances, mostly as a substitute, after being sidelined by injury in the first half of the year.
Now in his second year with the LionsXII, Zul has been elevated to a starter after star midfielder Hariss Harun left for Johor Darul Ta'zim.
He knows he can do better, and believes he will come good.
"Coach Fandi has spoken to me a few times about having confidence in myself. And also about taking more shots at goal," he told TNP.
"I don't think I've been playing badly. You have to realise that I hardly played last year - less than 10 appearances.
"So it's hard for me to just jump into it... I know I'm not at my peak right now, but that will take a few more games."
Blessed with a great left foot, Zul is a threat when arrowing crosses into the box and is one of the LionsXII's weapons from set-pieces.
On Fandi's feedback, he said: "I'm not sure if it's a lack of focus, but I do realise that I tend to drift out of the game," Zul said.
"I'm not really a defensive player, so I'm expected to do more when I'm on the ball. One thing's for sure, I'll be taking a lot more shots from now on."
He can give a lot more to this team... with his good physique and technique, I expect him to get on the ball more and orchestrate the midfield.
- LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad on Zulfahmi Arifin
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