Meet Zikri Khalili: The Selangor FA youngster using sports science in effort to reach Europe

Name: Ahmad Zikri Khalili
Age: 18
Siblings: Third child among five siblings
Academy: ProKids 1972 Soccer Academy (2013-2014), Project 2019 (2014), Pahang Malaysia Sports School (2015), Bukit Jalil Sports School (2016), Mokhtar Dahari Academy (2017-2019) 
Current Club: Selangor 2
National Team: Malaysia U-16 (qualified for 2018 AFC U-19 Championship finals), Malaysia U-19 (qualified for 2020 AFC U-19 Championship finals)
Position: Defender

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Early years

The defender recalled his first experience training as a young boy:

"I had been playing for my primary school back home in Kuantan since I was in Standard Four, but it was just for fun. Only in the following year I started training more seriously.

"My older brother, Ahmad Nuri wanted to join a youth training club, ProKids 1972 Soccer Academy but he didn't want to do it alone so he took me along. But overtime it was me who remained, while he focused on his studies."

Zikri with ProKids 1972 and former Pahang player Jalaluddin Jaafar in 2014

Learning the importance of education at AMD

Much like the first batch of the Mokhtar Dahari Academy (AMD) students who eventually began their training and education there in Form Three in 2017 (the academy now trains students beginning from Form One, the first year of secondary education for almost all youth in Malaysia), he was first selected for the 2019 Project team. He moved to Bukit Jalil in Standard Six to train with the team, along with boys who would go on to be his AMD classmates.

After detours through the Pahang Malaysia Sports School (2015) and the Bukit Jalil Sports School (2016), only in 2017 would they move properly into and began training at AMD.

As a youth footballer, he had expected to have to sacrifice his attention towards his formal education; a decision that was supported by his parents. But his eventual time at AMD instilled the importance of schooling.

"In Standard Six I often missed class due to my training commitment. Just before I started my Form One education, my parents sat me down and told me to decide properly between focusing on my studies, or football. They didn't think I can focus on both. But they were utterly supportive of my decision, and in the end I went with football.

"Having said that, we at AMD still tried to do well in our studies. We went to school in the morning while the evening is for training. They also provided us with evening talks on matters of football.

"The training by our coach back then, Lim Teong Kim (former AMD director and National Football Development Programme of Malaysia director) was always tough, but he was always supportive of me. He once asked me: 'What do you want to do if you were not in football?' I told him I want to study. But he explained that it was not impossible for me to do both at the same time, and that footballers can still go on to pursue other endeavours. That advice has provided me with the drive to succeed academically as well.

"After signing with the Selangor reserve team (along with 27 other 2019 AMD graduates), I also applied to pursue my sports science diploma studies at UiTM (Mara Institute of Technology). Studying while playing is something I've always planned on doing; as a sort of back-up plan. I'm just waiting for the application result now," noted the youngster.

Now in his first ever professional season with Selangor 2 after graduating from AMD last year, Zikri constantly utilises his academic inclination to better himself.

"I read a lot of research articles on sporting and endurance," he stated. "According to them, we athletes need to take care of our diet in order to take care of our endurance. So whenever I'm home, I have to tell my mother to go easy on the sugar and oil when she cooks for me.

"While at AMD all the information was obtained through coaches, I now take the initiative of reading up on sports science, although admittedly I'm by no means a bookworm. It's a sort of research for myself too, which is made easy by the prevalence of fitness-centred Instagram accounts." 

With the guidance and training received from his AMD stint, the teenager who can play as either a left back or a right centre back is now looking to meet two objectives.

"My target for now is to break through to the first team, to play in the Super League. There was once a rumour that they would call me up due to injuries, which got me all motivated in training, but in the end it didn't happen. Maybe next time!

"But my long-term aim is to play club football in Europe. Although I'm not at the level needed to go there yet, I'm willing to push myself. I need to work on my technique and endurance first for this to happen," he explained.