Afiq could end up remembering 2017 as the year when he started to come of age, following his move from JDT II.
The likes of Akram Mahinan and Azinee Taib were among those that made the step up but never really made a significant impact in previous years.
Afiq was expected to bid by his time before being considered anything more than a bit-part player, but the 22-year-old has pulled up his sleeves and worked his way into Benjamin Mora’s starting eleven, dislodging a more experienced Amirul Hadi Zainal.
The central midfielder has fit like a glove alongside captain Safiq Rahim and Nazmi Faiz Mansor, but admitted he was initially nervous about the prospects of lining up for the three-time consecutive Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions.
“I was nervous at first … who wouldn’t be? This was JDT, the best club the country, feeling you are ready for top flight football,” Afiq told FourFourTwo.
“I’m playing in my favourite position so that really helps … I had the same holding midfield role at JDT II and Harimau Muda. I have played as an attacker during my school days.”
Afiq’s introduction into JDT’s line-up has coincided with the Southern Tigers’ return of form after their defeat to Perak in February – the club’s first league defeat since the 2015 season.
Injuries have constantly set Irfan’s career back, but the former Malaysia under-23 captain was once deemed the best player of his generation. There was even talk that he could become better than Safiq after he won the SEA Games in 2011.
“Irfan was the reason I took up football more seriously. I was 15 … I saw Irfan play and wanted to emulate him. He went to places and I wanted to enjoy that too,” said Afiq.
“He always shows his support with words to encourage me. He didn’t do it in front of others though.”
Afiq has often been in Irfan’s shadows, even after the former joined the Harimau Muda set-up in 2014, and it is only understandable that he wanted to shrug off the ‘Irfan’s brother’ label.
He told FourFourTwo that the two are different type of players and their game play could be distinguished. Yet Afiq, like Irfan, seems to be good at distributing the ball with his passing range.
“I sometimes think that even without Irfan, I can still play too. It’s good having a big brother like him and he could share of his experience but this is about me now,” he said.