Although many may not notice, there’s something of a football revolution occurring in Malaysia right now.
The Malaysian national team is historically unsuccessful — zero World Cup appearances, none in the Asian Cup since 2007 (even then, no knockout stage appearances), and rarely any trophies in regional tournaments. This is all starting to change, however, thanks to Malaysia’s recruitment and youth development.
The national side has started recruiting dual-nationals, with the likes of Dion Cools and La’Vere Corbin-Ong swapping allegiances. Even more exciting are the up-and-coming talents to come from Malaysia recently: Luqman Hakim (20) now plays for Kortrijk in Belgium, while many more talents are already playing a role with the first team. The most exciting? Arif Aiman.
RW Arif Aiman, 20, Johor Darul Ta’zim FC
Aiman was born in Pahang, one of the largest states in Malaysia. At a young age, he joined Mokhtar Dahari Academy, a national program designed to develop Malaysian players. A few years later, Aiman left to play professionally in Malaysia’s top tier with Johor Darul Ta’zim (also known as JDT). JDT are basically Malaysia’s PSG, Bayern, or Juventus — they have won the last eight league titles, and are undefeated in the league at the time of writing.
In 2020, Aiman made his debut at the age of 17, becoming the second-youngest debutant in the club’s history. A year later, he became the youngest scorer in the club’s history, scoring eleven minutes into an eventual 4-0 victory. By the end of the season Aiman had scored twice and assisted three goals, debuted for Malaysia, debuted in the Asian Champions League, and won the league. Individually, he won league MVP (the youngest ever player to do so), Best Striker, and Most Promising Player.
This season Aiman has reached a different level. He currently leads the Malaysian Super League in assists with 10. His four goals in four games helped JDT win the Malaysian FA Cup. Aiman assisted the winner in the Malaysian Super Cup while also sending JDT to the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League for the first time ever as his deflected cross in the 94th minute found the back of the net.
Aiman has all the qualities that teams search for in a winger. He’s devastatingly fast and has great dribbling, while his footwork is good enough that he can get by defenders standing still. He’s surprisingly physical for his 5’7″ frame, an important feature in the Malaysian Super League — a league where defenders are sometimes less than patient with their challenges.
Aiman’s crossing is one of his biggest strengths, regularly getting the ball into dangerous areas. His finishing is good but not great, as he has yet to score in the league this season and does occasionally misfire. However, he is capable of slotting the ball away, doing so nicely on more than one occasion.
Aiman only turned 20 in May and is easily one of Asia’s most exciting talents. He’s an incredibly talented player with loads of potential (both marketing and on the field), so he’ll have no shortage of interest. His contract expires in November and he reportedly earned just 11k Malaysian Ringgit last year, roughly $2,300 USD. It’s hard to see a scenario where he’s not gone by 2023.
Regardless of whether or not he leaves Malaysia, Aiman has a tremendous career ahead of him. He’s a quality player who is going to continue to get better, and might just be Malaysia’s next big star.
Image courtesy of Johor Darul Takzim FC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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