There has never been any doubt over the footballing ability of Izzdin Shafiq, who progressed through the national youth ranks, patrolling the midfield alongside current Singapore vice-captain Hariss Harun.
Starring for the LionsXII today, he is comfortable on the ball, can ping accurate passes from half a football field away, and packs power in his shooting boots. The 24-year-old has enjoyed a stellar year and is now one of the first names on Fandi Ahmad's teamsheet.
But just a few years ago, Izzdin stood on the fringes of the team that won the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) title, facing much criticism for packing in a little extra around the waist.
His journey to a leaner, and meaner Izzdin came after a healthy dollop of plain old hard work, and a dash of a not-so-secret home remedy at the Bishan Stadium.
"There's really no secret to it - it's about putting in hard work. Personally, I give of my best every time I step onto the pitch, whether it's a match or a training session," he said, crediting his stint with S.League giants Home United last year as a critical factor in his rise.
"I was criticised about my weight before, and I guess it was fair - when you're overweight, it's harder running around the pitch.
"I started to lose weight before the 2013 South-east Asia Games, then I lost even more when I joined Home United.
"Home's game was a lot about running and chasing, you can't even dream about walking when you get out onto the pitch - and my mentality now is exactly the same," he said, of his time under former Home coach, South Korean Lee Lim Saeng.
"Those of us who weren't playing much would definitely have to run a lot during training sessions - and I have to say it really helped me a lot."
At his heaviest, Izzdin weighed 87kg, today, he is 8kg lighter. He also improved as a footballer at Home.
"It was good to be able to train with senior players, they've got a lot more experience and they helped with a lot of things, even simple stuff like my positioning on the field," he said, pointing to former Home forward, one-time South Korean international Lee Kwan Woo, as one of the best to learn from.
"The intelligence he showed on the pitch was brilliant. He didn't just play football with his feet, he played with his brain.
"I've tried to use some of his moves in my game," he revealed, chuckling as he recounted a no-look pass he attempted in a game.
"And now that I've lost quite a bit of weight, I'm a lot more mobile, and running all over the pitch really isn't a problem for me any more."
On Saturday's FA Cup final, Izzdin believes the LionsXII can "do something".
He said: "It will be great to be able to play in a final, and to win the FA Cup will be special. I know that if I continue to play like (I have), I think I can achieve something, I just have to press on."
This article was first published on May 21, 2015.
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