I’m a big fan of Amirizdwan Taj.
My perception of him is influenced by three yardsticks. Firstly, the coaches I’ve spoken to have always had good things to say about him. Secondly, he’s always been a humble individual and has never rejected any approach for an interview. But thirdly and far more importantly, he’s a fantastic defender when he hits top form.
But let’s be fair. If you started following Malaysian football in 2014, chances are that you have no idea as to who Amirizdwan is. And I wouldn’t blame you either. In March 2014, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, which ruled him out for eight months. It was frustrating for him and for every Malaysian fan out there, because the tall defender was in fine form, just before the ill-fated injury happened. The platform for him to grow and eventually become a constant fixture within the national set-up was present as well.
Things, have however changed. Today, FAM unveiled the national squad for Malaysia’s upcoming World Cup qualifying ties against UAE and Saudi Arabia. And the list featured a certain Amirizdwan on it, more than 16 months after his last appearance for the Malayan Tigers.
This is where it begins, again.
He was a late boomer. He didn’t come through regular State President Cup teams – instead, he was a product of the UiTM football team, while completing his undergraduate studies. Though he was highly-rated with them, Amirizdwan’s stock mainly went up, as soon as he made the move over to ATM in 2012. He was called up to the national squad just before he made the move, but as soon as he started helping the Armed Forces dominate the Premier League in 2012, his regular inclusion in the national set-up was a no-brainer.
For a late boomer like him, time is of the utmost essence. The injury didn’t only take a toll on his physical condition, but also his mental condition. It’s always difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch your team play football games, week in, week out – ask any footballer and they’ll agree. “Playing for the national team is the biggest honour for any football,” Amirizdwan told me when I spoke to him back in 2013. So his frustrations were also amplified by his inability to don the Harimau Malaya colours.
But he persevered. And he returned. In January 2015, the defender made his long-awaited return in ATM’s friendly match against JDT II. Even then, things got far more complicated. ATM kicked off the season with a flurry of new signings, but they struggled for form from the get go. Merely four points were collected from their first five games and at this point, you know they were in major trouble this year.
In April, they removed B. Sathianathan from the head coach position, sparking an exodus of players. Christie Jayaseelan left to join Felda United, and Amirizdwan finally decided to end ties with ATM and return to his home state. A fresh start, was what he was ultimately craving for.
But even Kelantan had managerial issues of their own. Azraai Khor, who was tasked with reviving Kelantan’s season, was having a hard time doing so, and it wasn’t the perfect environment for a player who is trying to find his feet again, after being out for the longest period. Defeat, after defeat only destroys confidence – the exact opposite of what Amirizdwan needed at this point.
Just when things looked bleak, Kelantan turned things around. Azraai Khor resigned and Zahasmi Ismail took over, inspiring them to improve their form. He made several structural changes within the team, which allowed Amiridzwan the room to operate alongside Jonny McKain – a partnership that grew stronger in every single match. This revival then culminated in them beating Johor DT 4-1 last weekend, a victory that doesn’t give them the title, but probably did something bigger than that. It restored confidence into the fans, the players, the management and more importantly, Amiridzwan Taj.
His efforts, his perseverance and his determination – no matter how bleak it looked at so many junctures – was finally rewarded today. And the platform for him to grow, has been reinstated. Amiridzwan’s height is a unique aspect of his playing style, which allows him to offer a different dimension to Malaysia’s defensive set-up. The ties against UAE and Saudi will be tricky, due to their physical superiority and Amiridzwan is now in a unique position to offer that exact trait.
Whether or not Amirizdwan goes on to make a major impression against UAE and Saudi Arabia, remains a question for now. In fact, he may not entirely influence the game. Malaysia may lose both ties, and life will go on. But one thing will be different. Amiridzwan Taj is back on track. Better still, the remote control is now in his hand.
Go on, brother. Go claim the kingdom you lost.