His committed, tough-tackling, take-no-prisoners style has made him a vital cog in the LionsXII machine over the past two years. So vital, in fact, that Isa Halim will be wearing not just his heart on his sleeves this season, but also the captain’s armband.
He is ready to let his leadership qualities come to the fore following the departures of captain Shahril Ishak and vice-captain Hariss Harun. And his style promises to be a stark contrast to his predecessor, a more reserved individual who preferred to let his feet do the talking.
“I’ve always been quite vocal and that isn’t about to change,” said Isa, who led the Singapore Under-23s to a bronze medal at the 2009 Laos SEA Games.
The 27-year-old is no stranger to making himself heard from his defensive midfield berth. “I used to shout at everyone – including Shahril, asking him to drop back,” he recalled with a laugh.
But while that part of his game will not change, he acknowledged that he has taken charge of a team in transition. The loss of top scorer Shahril, midfielder Hariss and defender Baihakki Khaizan essentially ripped the spine out of last year’s Malaysian Super League-winning side.
“People will compare us to the teams of the last two years and say that we are under-strength,” he said. “But I think we simply have different strengths.
“Players like Madhu (Mohana), Faritz (Hameed), Zulfahmi (Arifin) and Aqhari (Abdullah) all have played at international level, so it’s time for them to step up and prove that they can take over the team.”
On his part, Isa is keen to evolve from being a destroyer to an all-action midfielder.
“I need to help the team by scoring more,” said the new skipper, who went through last season without getting on the scoresheet.
“I’ve been working on my shooting and finishing so, if there’s an opportunity to go forward, it will be great for me.”
If anything, the willingness to add a new dimension to his game sums up Isa’s desire to help the team build on their success.
“We were a young team and still became champions,” he said.
“We have a title to defend and nobody can hide behind any excuses.”
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