New year, new beginnings for midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin
After a difficult 2020, the new year will bring new beginnings for Lions midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin.
The 29-year-old has signed a 1½-season deal with top-tier Thai team Samut Prakan City, who are based in a province about 25km from Bangkok, after his contract with Thai League 1 side Suphanburi expired.
He played just eight of Suphanburi's 15 league matches in a disrupted season, having returned to Singapore in August to be with his ailing mother, who later died from breast cancer.
But Zulfahmi was a fixture of Suphanburi's midfield before and after he returned to Singapore.
He started their first four matches before the league's coronavirus-enforced hiatus and, following his return to Thailand, he started three of Suphanburi's last four league games and came off the bench in the other one.
On returning to Singapore, Zulfahmi managed to be with his mother Norlela Piran for two weeks before she died at the age of 53.
As he emerged from his grief, Zulfahmi stoically soldiered on, deciding that he would return to Thailand.
He explained: "Somehow it was like I was grieving but I have to move on. So I decided to come back here as soon as possible, when the opportunity arose...
"For me, I think it was the right decision... I went back and managed to see my mum and spend time with her. And when she left, I had the time to come (back) to Suphanburi.
"I would say that I faced a very bad situation but in a very proper, successful way. I managed to settle everything back at home and come back in time to play for Suphanburi."
While Suphanburi largely fielded Zulfahmi in midfield, Samut Prakan coach Masatada Ishii has told the versatile player that he envisions him also filling in at centre-back and left-back.
Despite Covid-19 travel restrictions and the ever-looming threat of lockdowns prompting many based overseas to return home or forgo job or education opportunities abroad, Zulfahmi was unflinching in his desire to prolong his overseas sojourn at a third Thai League 1 club.
The former Chonburi player, who had also played for local sides Hougang United and Home United, said: "I made up my mind since last time when I reached Thailand that I just want to stay here (for) as long as possible...
"I'm a fan of the Thai League, how the football is played here. You have to think fast, it's all about technique and passing football. So I cultivate my playing style to suit it."
The Thai League fan now has a friend in sixth-placed Samut Prakan's ranks in Lions goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, 30, who joined the club in September after he was released by fellow top-tier side Trat.
Also plying his trade in Thailand is Lions defender Irfan Fandi, who on Tuesday extended his contract with runaway league leaders BG Pathum United.
Zulfahmi plans to move to an apartment near Izwan's so they can carpool to training together.
He said: "It'll be nice to have someone like Izwan...
"We can push each other in training... We can go out for dinner together. This will be really helpful. It's different from what I had at my two (previous Thai) clubs."