JDT’s Arif still hungers for more success after glut of awards

Marked man: Malaysia’s Arif Aiman Hanapi takes a shot at the Oman goal during their World Cup 2026-Asian Cup 2027 second-round qualifier at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on Tuesday. — Bernama

PETALING JAYA: Johor Darul Ta’zim winger Arif Aiman Hanapi may have won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for three consecutive years but it’s not enough for him.

The 21-year-old still feels he has not done enough.

Since taking his professional bow on Feb 29, 2020, Arif has been a revelation in Malaysian football. He made his presence felt in 2021 thanks to his swashbuckling performances on the right flank.

Catching the eye with his silky dribbling skills and close control, Arif slowly added finishing and creative passing into his arsenal of talents, earning him star status on the domestic scene.

In all domestic competitions, he has played 97 games, scoring 32 goals, and providing 33 assists.

Last season alone, the lad from Kuantan scored 21 goals and provided 14 assists in all domestic competitions, making him one of the darlings of Malaysian football.

But despite all the accolades and trophies, the key player for Harimau Malaya is still yearning for more.

“I’m not a person who is easily satisfied,” said Arif, who has won 28 caps with Malaysia, scoring seven goals.

“I did not expect to win the MVP award for the third consecutive time but it is an exciting time as I’ve achieved all these at the age of 21.

“I want to score more goals compared to last season. I want to do better every year. I’m not setting any specific target, but I’m just telling myself to enjoy the process and be better.’’

Arif said he has to step up as the game continues to evolve.

“I cannot be too comfortable with how I play, especially as an attacker. Teams are certain to come up with different tactics and ways to stop you, but we just have to learn and come out of it much better.”

Arif had also won the Best Young Player award for three consecutive seasons, and 2023 was the last year he was eligible for it.

He admitted that over the years, he has seen the growth of several youngsters, which had pushed him to be even better.

“I have to say the competition has not been easy at all. Things evolve, players get better and there will be new talents coming up. Next year, I will be 22 and I will not be eligible for the young player award, so I’ve to step up,” he said.

Besides winning the MVP and Young Player award in the recent award ceremony, Arif also bagged the Best Striker award and scorer of the Best Goal of the season.

The goal that led to him winning the award was against Perak during their Malaysia Cup semi-final clash.

Arif also shared the top scorer’s award for local players with Faisal Halim. Both had scored 12 goals each throughout the season.

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