Know Me Better: Mukhairi Ajmal

At Selangor FC, young players' development is important and the younger boys are always given the opportunity to shine. This chance is handed not only at the reserve team or youth level, but also at the first team stage to players who have shown tremendous improvement.

One such player is Red Giants and now Malaysia midfielder Mukhairi Ajmal Mahadi. Despite having only turned 20 in November, the year 2021 has seen him playing bigger roles for club and country.

He made 20 appearances in the Malaysia Super League for Selangor FC, 9 as a starter, and netted his first ever Super League goal in our 6-0 away win against Sabah FC back in September. He would then feature only 3 times in the Malaysia Cup, but there was a good reason for his limited cup outings.

Around the same time the cup tournament was held, Selangor FC allowed Ajmal to answer the nation's calling to captain the Malaysia junior team in the qualifying stage of the 2022 U-23 Asian Cup, in Mongolia. He successfully led the Young Tigers to the finals as Group J winners.

While the midfielder is predicted to star for Selangor FC in the years to come, Ajmal's footballing life had begun as a boy thanks to his father, Mahadi Maalim. Growing up in Kampung Batu Enam, Pahang, his passion for the sport was sparked by watching Mahadi playing at the amateur level, also as a midfielder.

His talent was obvious from his teen years, and he represented his district and then the state of Pahang at junior levels, before attending the Pahang Malaysian Sports School and then the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School.

Upon finishing his secondary school studies and training, he was scouted by PKNP FC head coach Abu Bakar Fadzim, and was offered to play for the then-first tier outfit ahead of the 2019 season. Before long he was handed his first ever competitive senior level as well as Super League appearance by Abu Bakar, at the age of only 17, in their 1-0 defeat to PKNS FC, and he would play in 3 more matches for PKNP that year. His first ever senior goal would follow in the Malaysia Cup later in the same year. At the international stage, he helped Malaysia finish the AFF U-18 Youth Championship in second place before qualifying for the 2020 AFC U-19 Championship.

When Selangor FC formed its reserve team ahead of the 2020 season, Ajmal was among one of the junior Malaysia stars signed to play for our second team in the Malaysia Premier League, where he would make 4 appearances. Although he made only two first team appearances in his first season at the club, he would be promoted to the first team permanently for the 2021 season along with four other young players.

While this year has been a sterling one for him at the club and junior international levels, he has made another step up; by donning the Harimau Malaya jersey at the senior level for the first time. Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe first put him on as a second half substitute in friendly defeats to Jordan and Uzbekistan in October, and Ajmal is now part of the Malaysia squad competing in the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup in Singapore. Last Monday, he came on in the 27th minute to help Malaysia open their campaign with a 3-1 win against Cambodia, and Ajmal is expected to grow into a more starring role in the middle of the park as the tournament goes on.

Cheng Hoe expressed his admiration for the growth shown by Ajmal after the win.

"If you observe Mukhairi, he has been performing well for the Under-19s and U-22s. At the same time this is a different level for him. He absorbs all the pressure and situation knowing that we need the win.

"We encouraged him during training saying that he should believe in himself and that we trust him to perform. With his performance, it was a good start for him where he gained exposure and experience at this higher level. Definitely will be a positive sign for him," said the trainer as quoted by Goal.

As Cheng Hoe's charges continue their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, we expect big things from the midfielder in Singapore, while Selangor FC fans will be looking forward to seeing Mukhairi Ajmal commanding the Red Giants' engine room, in the 2022 season and beyond.

By Zulhilmi Zainal