Hafiz settles in at left-back

Singapore and LionsXII footballer Hafiz Abu Sujad training at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. Still only 24, he has played in midfield, left-back and even up front, as well as centre-back during his career.

Versaility is no doubt one of Hafiz Abu Sujad's strengths but it has also given him a problem: Finding a niche for himself.

The utility player was deployed in holding midfield, left midfield and at left-back for the LionsXII last season and even played up front for his school and at centre-back as a National Football Academy trainee.

As a result of his adaptability, lines have become blurred and it is hard to say what his strongest position is.

But as he turns 25 this year, Hafiz believes it is time to specialise for the sake of his future.

He told The Straits Times: "If I have to choose, I'd say my favourite position is central midfield. But I'm not getting any younger, and it's time for me to settle in a permanent position.

"Right now, the left-back spot is up for grabs after Shakir (Hamzah) left (for Courts Young Lions) and my focus is to become a first-choice left-back for the team."

And that seems to be where LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad sees Hafiz's future.

The tactician said: "It's good that he's chosen to specialise. He's strong, stocky, very fast going forward, and sends good crosses. Tactically, his decision-making needs (improving), but playing more matches will help him."

Hafiz played as a left-back in all three of the team's matches at last week's President of Maldives Invitational Football Cup.

While the game time has helped, he knows there is work to be done before he can emulate his late father, former Singapore left-back Abu Sujad.

The 1.68m-tall player said: "I still have a lot to learn, in terms of positioning, and judging when to attack the ball, so I need players like Izwan (Mahbud , goalkeeper) to guide me. I'm also a little short for a defender.

"But what I can offer is overlapping runs and non-stop running. Hopefully game by game, I can gain confidence and adapt."

As he braces himself to face what the Malaysian Super League can throw at him, starting with a home match against PDRM on Saturday, Hafiz also feels the timing of his challenges needs improving.

The topic of his ball-winning skills was particularly poignant as the Liverpool fan recalled with regret the penalty he conceded in Singapore's crucial ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup group match against Malaysia last year.

Then, he nudged Tigers forward Amri Yahyah in stoppage time, as the visitors won 3-1 to eliminate the Lions.

Hafiz insists it was never his intention to foul Amri but it was a painful lesson learnt, saying: "It was demoralising, and I kept wondering why it had to be me. It replayed in my mind non-stop.

"But it was a good lesson. Strikers look for contact in the box to win penalties, and it's something I have to watch out for, especially as a left-back."

While nailing down a position is his immediate target, the player will not hesitate to plug holes in the team if the need arises, especially with the LionsXII in a central defensive crisis following Safuwan Baharudin's loan move to Melbourne City and Afiq Yunos out indefinitely with gout.

He said: "It's all about helping the team, and if coach Fandi thinks I can do a job in central defence or in midfield, I'd play there."


This article was first published on February 5, 2015.
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