Shahril stays captain, has good chance of playing more

Shahril Ishak (No. 17) training with Safuwan Baharudin. The Lions captain was largely sidelined by former coach Bernd Stange. But he never gave up and now hopes to get his national career back on track under new boss Sundram.
Shahril Ishak (No. 17) training with Safuwan Baharudin. The Lions captain was largely sidelined by former coach Bernd Stange. But he never gave up and now hopes to get his national career back on track under new boss Sundram. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

From the highs of being named the 2012 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup's Most Valuable player and being the inaugural AFF Player of the Year (men) in 2013, Lions skipper Shahril Ishak's stock has plummeted in recent years.

The veteran playmaker, who is the most experienced player in caretaker national coach V. Sundramoorthy's first national squad with 128 caps, was reduced to a reserve role under Sundram's predecessor Bernd Stange.

Under the German, Shahril managed just 125 minutes in the Republic's eight 2018 World Cup qualifiers, where he was an unused substitute in the crucial matches against Japan and Syria.

Stange even once stated that the 32-year-old could no longer cope with the demands of international football - though the Lions captain since 2010 thinks otherwise.

He said of his time on the bench: "Of course, in the past few years, as a player I felt frustrated as I want to contribute more to the team.

"(But) as a player, I just have to agree and give support to the coaches, and be professional enough to adapt to the situation."

Despite entering the twilight of his playing career, coupled with the lack of minutes on the pitch, Shahril shared that he never entertained thoughts of international retirement.

He said: "I have gone through (a lack of playing time) before, when I was young and just joined the national team, there were many senior players.

"The feeling is the same as when I was a youngster. But for me, my philosophy is to never give up. If I have a chance (to play for the team), I would give my best."

With former national striker Sundram, who led the now-defunct LionsXII to the 2013 Malaysia Super League title with Shahril as his key man, at the helm, the player's national career could soon be back on track.

Under the guidance of the tactician, Shahril was top scorer during the successful season with 14 goals.

Sundram said: "He's a leader, and his influence to the younger boys can keep the team spirit very high. He's a good player on the field, and a great personality off it."

With the likes of Azhar Sairudin and Sahil Suhaimi competing to be the team's creative outlet, Shahril still faces a tough route back into the first team - though he probably stands a better chance than during the Stange era.

In fact, one of Sundram's first statements as the new Lions coach was to reiterate that Shahril will remain as his captain - something that means a great deal to the Johor Darul Takzim II skipper.

Breaking into a smile, Shahril said: "It was a great honour, coming from the legend himself. I'm very pleased and blessed as it means he has faith in me.

"I have to take the responsibility in the team. On and off the pitch, hopefully."

Nicholas Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Shahril stays captain, has good chance of playing more'. Print Edition | Subscribe