Zulfahmi finds a mentor in S.League legend Therdsak
Ex-Warrior Therdsak Chaiman helping midfielder adapt at Thai outfit Chonburi
Before every pre-season training session with Chonburi FC, his new club in Thailand, Zulfahmi Arifin often wondered if he would survive.
Thrown into the deep end with the Sharks, as Chonburi are known as, he knows it is swim - or sink.
Over there, the intensity is much higher than what the 26-year-old Singapore international has experienced during his eight years in the S.League and Malaysian Super League.
All eyes are on his every move. As a foreign player at the Thai League 1 club, he must be better than the locals.
Then, there's also the language barrier.
While the midfielder tries to adapt to life outside his comfort zone, he's also found a mentor in S.League legend Therdsak Chaiman, who is Chonburi's assistant coach.
The former Thai international, who won five S.League titles during six glorious years with Singapore Armed Forces FC (now Warriors FC), is one of few Chonburi officials who speaks fluent English.
Over a long-distance phone interview, Zulfahmi shared with The New Paper how it has been on hisThai adventure.
He said: "The intensity here is very high, so I need to think quick and be very focused at every training session.
"Not that I wasn't focused back in Singapore," the former Hougang United player added, "but here, I really need to be prepared and be on my toes.
"Pre-season was really tough. Before every training session, I was like, 'Will I survive this training?'.
"But it has been good so far, the officials at Chonburi have been very supportive."
Therdsak's familiarity with the S.League and fluent English has helped him immensely.
Zulfahmi said: "When I first arrived, he shared with me what the Thai league is like. He covered the key pointers that I need to learn to have a good season.
"He knows what Singaporean players are like, their weaknesses and strengths, so he knows what I should work on.
"And for him to play in both Singapore and Thailand, he's definitely one of the best whom I can learn from."
Therdsak, the S.League's Player of the Year in 2002, was regarded as one of the competition's finest foreign imports, netting 74 goals during his six years with the Warriors.
The former midfielder, who helped Thai club BEC Tero Sasana reach the AFC Champions League final in 2003, was a key player of the Warriors side who won a record four consecutive S.League titles from 2006 to 2009.
He returned to Thailand to play for Chonburi in 2010, became the club's head coach in 2016 and 2017, leading them to fifth and seventh in Thai League 1 respectively before stepping down. Last month, he was appointed the club's assistant coach.
Therdsak said: "He has the right character and mindset to be a good player, but he still has a lot to learn in order to adapt to Thai football.
"Thai football is different from the S.League, where games are tough because it's more physical.
"In Thailand, the players have more technique and skills, so they like to play mainly on the ground. It's more about a good and quick passing game."
Zulfahmi has featured in both of Chonburi's games since the Thai season kicked off earlier this month.
He started in their 1-0 loss to Chiangrai United on Feb 10 and came on as a substitute in last Friday's 1-1 draw with Royal Thai Navy FC.
On his performance so far, Therdsak said: "He has a good physique and to me, he is a good left-footer. He can also give good free-kicks or set-pieces.
"He needs to adapt to the quick movements and passing in the game, and organise himself in terms of the position that he plays."
Zulfahmi is acutely aware of his job description, now that he is an Asean import at an overseas club.
Playing in front of bigger crowds and on foreign soil has always been his dream, so he's determined to live up to the expectations.
He said: "When I was at Hougang, I expected a lot from the foreigners because they were the players I wanted to learn from. So I have to accept the reality that when I'm here, some players are doing that too.
"I have to live up to those expectations but, while I'm here, I also want to learn from the other foreigners and even the Thai players because they are really exceptionally talented."
Speaking in awe of playing for Chonburi, you could almost hear him smile through the phone.
"I really consider myself lucky to be here. I just want to repay their faith in me because the Thai league is a very strong league, so for them to accept me into the team is such a great honour," he said.