PETALING JAYA: Winger Arif Aiman Hanapi has the credentials to ply his trade overseas but he is staying put with Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
The 20-year-old has started the Super League in his typical fiery form by scoring three goals and providing two assists in five matches, and one can expect more from him.
The two-time Malaysian Football League (MFL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2021 and 2022 has been so prominent that he has been eyed by many overseas clubs, including several top K-league sides and J-league club Kashiwa Reysol.
It’s learnt that several European scouts and agents were monitoring him too.
Arif’s heart, though, is only for JDT and he has no intention of leaving the club.
“I am not focused on overseas clubs. I am focused on JDT,” said the man of few words.
“This year, I want to help the club do well in the AFC Champions League (ACL). I believe we have what it takes to go further, and as one of the players, I want to help the club go beyond the last 16.”
Last season, they qualified for the last-16 stage but lost to Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds 0-5.
The club are eyeing another strong outing this season.
With players like striker Diogo Luis Santo, winger Juan Muniz, centreback Jordi Amat and Arif in top form, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they can get to at least the quarter-finals.
In the Super League, they have started the season well by scoring 21 goals in just five matches to lead with 15 points.
Arif certainly loves life in the south, and coach Esteban Solari can afford to tinker with Arif’s position as the versatile youngster is able to play as a wingback, winger and, at times, as a striker.
“The coach decides to play me everywhere. I’ve to adapt to it. To me, it’s an advantage in terms of first-team opportunities. It was nice playing as a striker in our 4-0 win against Selangor last week,” he said.
“It’s good that we are widening the gap with the chasing pack and we hope to stay on top for a long time to come.”