It’s the first time Mohamad Zaky Zulkifli is stepping out of the country, and it will be to have a football trial with Arsene Wenger in London.
So it’s no surprise then, that he couldn’t contain his tears of joy when a panel of national coaches, led by K. Rajagobal, announced him as the winner of Nike’s The Chance competition.
As one of the 100 winners of this global programme, Zaky, 20, will represent Malaysia at a one-week trial for a spot in the Nike Academy in London, where Arsenal manager Wenger is the “curator”.
“It’s a dream come true. I want to go there and show the people from around the world what Malaysians can do. I’ll work hard,” said Zaky, right after the final selection.
The Chance started with trials in Johor, Penang, Kuantan and Kuala Lumpur, and 17 young footballers were selected for the final round – a match against the Malaysian national under-16 team.
For Zaky, who currently works for Majlis Perbandaran Pasir Gudang (the Pasir Gudang Municipal Council) in Johor, it has been a long journey fulfilling his dream of being a professional footballer.
“I used to play for the Johor under-20 state team. But then my parents felt it was better if I found a proper job.
“I told my mother I wanted to play football (professionally), but she said I should take the chance to work with the government because it would give me a better future, so I listened to her,” he said.
Now however, the Manchester United fan hopes his parents will change their minds.
He says he looks up to players like Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney, and wants to be “fighters” on the pitch just like them.
National U-16 coach Aminuddin Hussin, one of the coaches involved in selecting Zaky from all the other finalists, said that Zaky will need that fight when he gets to London.
“If Malaysian footballers want to make it in Europe, the most important thing is character. At the highest level, football is not a game, it’s war. Zaky might struggle there, but we feel he has the mental strength for it,” he said.
The Nike Academy is a football academy supported by the Premier League, and it’s aim is to give talented, non-contracted players the world-class training they need to help realise their dreams of becoming professional footballers.
The Chance was a programme to find 100 young players from 40 countries and give them the chance to join the academy. Of the 100, only eight will be selected, and their living expenses in the UK will be sponsored by Nike for a year.
In total, 500 talented youngsters joined the competition in Malaysia. Zaky, a central defender who can also play in midfield, set himself apart with his maturity and understanding of the game.
“We tested him. During the match against the under-16s, we switched his position from centre-back to central midfield, and he coped very well. He’s a leader on the pitch, and he reads the game well. For young players, this mental side of the game can be more important than skill,” said coach Aminuddin.