Meet Najmudin Akmal, budding Malaysian striker (and chef) who wants to play like Lewandowski

Name: Najmudin Akmal Kamal Akmal
Age: 17
Siblings: Third child among four siblings
Academy: CIMB-YFA (2008-2014), Tunas Academy NFDP (2013-2015), MBSA Academy (2015), Pahang Malaysia Sports School (2016), Mokhtar Dahari Academy (2017-present) 
National Team: Malaysia U-16 (qualified for 2018 AFC U-19 Championship finals)
Position: Striker

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Having started his training at age five when he followed a brother, the striker recalled his late father being his biggest supporter.

"He would diligently send me to training before I joined AMD, sending me to practice early in the morning because we lived in Rawang and the training was usually all the way in Kuala Lumpur. We would leave before sunrise and only return home after dusk.

"It was tiring, but as a boy I didn't really realise it because it was fun, you know? It was tough, but even then I knew I had to train hard. Or else me and my father would have gone through all this for nothing," he revealed.

This quiet determination has also helped Najmudin adapt well to playing for Malaysia U-16 with boys that are a year older than him such as Luqman Hakim and Zikri Khalili; his AMD seniors. He was on the squad for the 2018 edition of the finals, scoring one goal.

"It was tough to break into a team with older players, but I had to show my perseverance. It also helped that there was no bullying or anything like that; we were all friends."

He has had to call upon this determination again unfortunately, after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) on his right knee September last year, while playing in a Youth Cup match for AMD.

With the injury requiring him to undergo rehabilitation at the National Sports Institute (ISN) in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, Najmudin moved back in with his family.

"When it happened in the match against Kedah, I thought that it was nothing severe because I could walk around for a few days afterwards. It's only when I underwent a proper scan that we found out how severe it was.

"I was understandably down, but thankfully the ISN physios and therapists have been very helpful, as do my mother and the AMD coaches. I should already be able to return to training this month if not for the Covid-19 movement control and competitions abandonment. Thankfully my rehabilitation could still take place. Admittely, it's the worst thing to have happened to me since I started playing," he expressed frankly.

Having to move back to the Klang Valley for rehabilitation also required him to transfer schools for the final year of his secondary education, and the forward revealed to Goal the slightly unusual direction he wants to take at the tertiary level.

"I do want to go to uni, where I want to study culinary, which is something I've always been interested in. For now, my cooking is so-so, but my specialty is drinks.

"I'm the person my family asks to make the drinks for mealtimes!" said the teenager.

His main focus remains on football however, and the 17-year old only has eyes on playing abroad.

"I've dreamt of playing overseas since I was a small boy and that's what I intend to do after I finish school.

"It's something that I really want, to the extent I haven't even planned on joining any Malaysian club after graduating," he stated.

Knowing that the teenager idolises Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski, Goal half-jokingly suggested that he utilise his relationship with former AMD and NFDP director Lim Teong Kim, who is also a former youth coach at Bayern, to get him in touch with the German giants.

Robert Lewandowski Borussia Dortmund Bayern Munchen 05/26/20

Robert Lewandowski. Photo from Depo Photos

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"Maybe I'll try that!" the teenager replied with a laugh. "But I do try to emulate Lewandowski in my playing because I think he has the full package; ball control, finishing, speed, finding space. He's just the best.

"I'm also a fan of Mbappe (France star Kylian Mbappe), who won the World Cup as a teenager. I want to achieve something like that."