He was once dubbed Singapore football's next big thing when he broke onto the scene in 2009 as a talented 18-year-old forward.
But instead of jostling with defenders on the pitch, Khairul Nizam, 24, has spent more time off it battling a series of injuries.
Having managed only 20 matches between 2012 and 2014 because of his injury troubles, Nizam has had a smooth 2015 by his standards, featuring prominently and netting five goals in the process.
His latest was the 88th-minute wonder goal in the LionsXII's 1-1 draw with Selangor last Saturday.
Tonight, as they face Sarawak in their final Malaysia Super League (MSL) away match of the season in Kuching, Nizam is eager to kick on and fire for both club and country.
"It feels great to finally be playing football on a regular basis," he told The Straits Times. "My friends, family and the coach have retained their belief in me over the years and I just want to repay them.
"The medical staff, especially, have really helped me. They kept pushing me to be strong and gave me the strength to keep going." Nizam's goal-scoring prowess was evident in 2007 when, aged just 16, he won the Golden Boot in the Schools National B Division championship, scoring nine goals for Serangoon Secondary.
Later, setbacks including a sprained knee and a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) prompted him to consider quitting the sport.
"At one point, I did consider that (quitting), but then my family told me to keep going," he said. "I have been very patient and right now I just need to ensure that I can be fit and free of any injuries."
Nizam is also keen to change the public's perception of him.
In 2010, he was banned for eight months and fined $2,000 by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) for gross misconduct and bringing the game into disrepute, for his part in a brawl between the Young Lions and Beijing Guoan Talent during an S-League match.
Last December, after Singapore lost 1-3 to Malaysia in their final AFF Suzuki Cup group match, Nizam flew into a rage, lashing out at equipment nearby. A video of the incident, which saw him being restrained by team-mates, went viral.
Said Nizam, who apologised for his behaviour after criticism from fans: "Those are lessons for me and I have moved on from that.
"What I need to do now is focus on my football because I know I have plenty to work on, like my ball control and finishing. I have missed a lot of training over the last few years so it is about making up for lost time now."
Coach Fandi Ahmad is happy to have Nizam fit and firing, especially with the Malaysia Cup beginning next month.
"I am happy for him and hopefully he can stamp a place in the starting XI," said Fandi. "Nizam works very hard. His aerial superiority can be an asset for us."
In their 10 matches away from home this season, the LionsXII have won only once, a 2-1 victory against Sime Darby back in May.
Fandi, whose men finished eighth among the 12 teams last term, is eager to ensure that his side emerge victorious tonight.
He said: "We need to win our last two matches to have a good chance of finishing in the top four."
This article was first published on Aug 19, 2015.
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