PETALING JAYA: When Junior Eldstal announced he was coming out of retirement last year, many dismissed his chances of making a successful return.
Some even said that he is now “too heavy” for professional football, but the 1.91m centreback, who weighs 80kg, has proven the critics wrong with his strong performance for Thai League One side Chonburi this season.
Since joining the club in January, the former Sarawak and Johor Darul Ta’zim player has played in seven games and is making his presence felt in the heart of the defence.
The club are currently 10th in the 16-team standings. Before Eldstal joined, Chonburi were fighting to avoid relegation.
“I’m loving life in Thailand. Coming out of retirement, I have this love for the game again, ” said the 29-year-old who was born in Kota Kinabalu.
“I feel like a young lad making his professional debut. I’m enjoying learning the culture, language and so far, I’m adapting well.
“The coach and team have shown good faith in constantly giving me chances in every game which is a massive boost for me personally. The league is fast, competitive and physical.
“Anyone can beat anyone in this league. The pitches, stadiums and facilities are great, and I’m waiting for fans to be allowed back in to really experience Thai football in full.”
As for the criticisms, Eldstal does not read too much into what is said.
“The best way to silence them is to get your head down and keep working hard on the pitch. I’m at a beautiful age now where I have matured and am experienced with this.”
But Eldstal admitted that some of the comments have been hurtful.
“The ones that get me the most are the racial slurs suggesting that I do not belong in Malaysia when my mother is a proud Sabahan and I have family there. This stuff breaks me, knowing that I have given my life and career to be a part of Malaysia in the past, ” added the former international.
With his fine form in Thailand, it would not be a surprise to see Eldstal getting a recall to the national squad for this month’s training camp in preparation for the World Cup 2022-Asia Cup 2023 qualifiers in June.
But Eldstal prefers to concentrate on his game in Thailand and wants to make the best of his stint there.
“I’m grateful that I have this opportunity to come back into professional football during a global pandemic. So I want to enjoy it, play with a smile and stay healthy for the rest of my career.”