News Singapore Premier League • August 10, 2018
Hougang’s Amir Zalani keeps grafting
Diminutive midfielder has struggled to establish himself after rapid rise, but is working hard to change that
Amir Zalani joined Hougang United in 2016.
SINGAPORE, 10 AUG 2018 – Amir Zalani’s introduction to football happened during one particular recess in primary school.
A fellow student asked him to join in a kickabout and the 11-year-old, who was not “into” the sport before that, ended up making it his career.
Amir went on to represent Marsiling Primary and then Northland Secondary, while also successfully trialling for Home United FC’s youth team at 14.
Four years in the Prime League followed and that was when the pint-sized attacker blossomed, starring in Home’s 2014 and 2016 title wins – the former after an unbeaten campaign. Home also won the Singapore FA Cup in 2015, where Amir banged in four goals in a 5-1 final win; they went on to retain the Cup in 2016.
His performances convinced then-Head Coach Philippe Aw, who had recruited him into the club, to hand Amir his professional debut as a substitute in a S.League match two years ago.
It was a dream come true for the youngster to play with his idols Faris Ramli and Zulfahmi Arifin, whom he had watched from the side-lines during his time as a ball-boy at Home’s home matches.
“It was a very emotional moment for me because I had waited very long for that,” he told the Singapore Premier League (SPL) website. “To be honest, I thought it was really hard to get to the S.League and that my chances were limited, but I just kept going.
“I had been in the Prime League for four years… I remember my debut was against Albirex (Niigata FC (S)) and I played with the likes of Faris and Ken Ilsø; even though we lost, it was a good experience.”
Having already donned Singapore colours at Under-21 level and for the National Futsal Team, Amir’s rise was vindication of his hard work at Prime League level.
Amir started off as a second striker, but has played in central midfield in recent times.
He chose to follow Aw to Hougang United FC for the 2017 season, persuaded by former team-mates Zulfahmi, Azhar Sairudin and Syahiran Miswan.
“Philippe called me and talked to me about his plans for forming a team around youth (talent), and I was very interested,” Amir said. “I thought I’d give it a try and explore a new club.”
At Hougang, he has played mostly in central midfield, which meant having to rein in the attacking instincts he displayed during his preferred roles as a second striker and winger.
But unlike Adam Swandi, the fellow student who invited him to play so many years ago, Amir’s career has arguably stalled since. Having made just nine starts in 16 appearances to date, the 21-year-old has struggled to establish himself and fulfil his early promise.
“I think I did not meet my expectations (of where I would be at this stage of my career), to be honest,” Amir said frankly. “I wanted to do better in the league and I am slowly working towards it, but I know I am not there yet.”
The 1.65m Amir admitted that he has to work harder to be granted opportunities, and make the best of them when they come. Currently in his final year at Republic Polytechnic’s School of Infocomm, Amir cites juggling studies with football as the most difficult part of his career.
“Sometimes I have to miss training, so I know it’s unfair to (expect to) get (more) opportunities from the coaches,” he reasoned. “But I hope I can fully focus on football (after graduating next February) so I can give my best… I think I can do so much better.”
Amir scored his first professional goal against Albirex.
It does not help that the Cheetahs have performed below expectations this season, which led to Aw stepping down in June and being replaced by Clement Teo.
Hougang prop up the table with six games left, seven adrift of eighth-placed Geylang International FC, and Amir acknowledged that it is a “very tough” time for the team.
But the floppy-haired midfielder chooses to take the situation in his stride.
“These tough times show your character and how you are as a person,” he asserted. “It’s up to every individual how you want to take it, how you want to get better.
“For myself, I always assess the good and bad aspects of my performances and try not to repeat my mistakes.
“Ultimately, it’s your attitude; you can’t be negative… that mindset will be contagious and you won’t improve that way. I know it’s very hard for us now, but the team is trying very hard… I know we’ve gone through bad times but I hope at the end of the season, the team is still together (in spirit).”
When times get particularly tough, Amir draws motivation from his mother, saying: “I just want to make her proud and give my best in everything I do.”
In the long term, he aspires to play overseas like his idol, Chonburi FC midfielder Zulfahmi; the aim now though is to end the season on a high.
“The Singapore Cup is coming so that is a better platform for us to perform,” Amir said. “Our win against Geylang (International FC) in the last game helped to improve our confidence and… hopefully our fortunes will be different this time in the Cup.”