Lions' newcomer Azhar, 29, feels like youngster
He will turn 30 in September, an age most believe a footballer will start to decline, but one can't blame Azhar Sairudin for feeling like a youngster all over again.
The Home United midfielder has been one of the most consistent performers in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League in recent years, and new national coach V Sundramoorthy has finally given Azhar the call-up that many observers believe he deserves.
"I was totally shocked, I didn't see this coming at all, but I'm glad and honoured to get the opportunity at this age," Azhar told The New Paper yesterday.
"The S.League is a completely different level from international football, which is much faster and more intense. Hopefully, I can keep up with the speed of things."
Yesterday was Azhar's second training session with the Lions and he admitted that the first was tiring.
"The training here is much more intense, but that's how football is supposed to be but, yes, it was tiring," he said, chuckling.
With Shahdan Sulaiman injured, Azhar could provide the creative spark in midfield, and Sundram appeared keen to give the former national Under-18 player his first cap in Myanmar, where Singapore will play in the Aya Bank Cup from Friday to next Monday.
"Azhar is in the squad because of his performances in the league. We've seen what he can do there, so let's see him on the international stage," said Sundram.
"He fits in okay in training, but training is completely different from match situations, and we'll need to test him out.
"Shahdan is out injured, but we've still got Izzdin Shafiq, Sahil Suhaimi and Shahril Ishak, who can all create. We'll see who the best man is, and the best man will play."
Azhar paid tribute to Philippe Aw, his club coach whom he believes set a platform that put him on the path into the national team.
"Before I got called up, Philippe would say every day in training that I deserve to be called up to the national team but, in my mind, there was no chance of that happening," said the former Hougang United man.
"I've got to give Philippe a lot of credit for the faith, to allow me to play my style, and having the club play in this style that really suits me too. Maybe that's why I was able to shine."
Azhar can already feel the butterflies in the stomach if he is given his first cap.
"I will be lying if I said I won't be feeling nervous like a young player when I play for Singapore for the first time," he said.
"But, I have been playing all these years, I think I'll be able to manage that. I hope to be able to do enough to make the cut for the AFF Suzuki Cup squad at the end of the year." - SHAMIR OSMAN