Arif Aiman Hanapi – South-East Asia’s Next Big Bang! by Adam Sariman
Name: Arif Aiman Hanapi
Date of Birth: 4th of May 2002
Height: 166 cm
Position: Right Winger or Left Winger
Club: Johor Darul Takzim FC (Malaysian Super League)
Similar Players: Jeremy Doku, Dusan Tadic
Arif Aiman Hanapi has been on the lips of Malaysian football fans since his breakthrough in March of 2020 for the biggest club in Malaysia, Johor Darul Takzim FC or more famously known as JDT FC against FELDA United FC in the Malaysian Super League. Eyes glued to the television, realizing who is this 17- year-old making his debut for the club of JDT’s stature. An empty stadium, without a crowd cheering on physically, Arif managed to make his debut became the talk of the night. Only small in stature, with fearlessness brewing inside of him he bedazzled not only FELDA’s players but also every Malaysian football fan in the country. Gifted with silky footwork and immense balance, he showed glimpses of what he could do and what the future holds in store for him. In this short analysis, we will see how he can become South-East Asia’s next big bang!
Arif has been cooking up a storm ever since he got onto the scene at first-team level, managing to bench out the also mighty household name, Safawi Rasid who had been quieter ever since the emergence of Malaysia’s latest bright spark. What made him stood out among other rising ‘young tigers’ is how he managed to hit the ground running. The ability of him to manipulate the ball with his feet at his will by turning defenders inside out and sending them to the shops at a young age is not an easy `forte to many. On his debut, he managed to ease his way around the defender with a simple turn and a cut back across the goal to find a teammate in the box. Fast forward a year later, this can be seen as his trademark move where he drifts wide and isolates defenders before punishing them with a perfectly weighted cutback for his colleagues to finish.
With a low centre of gravity, resulting in balance and agility at the highest of level, becoming his main trait to ease past defenders with body feints that he can sell effectively. His quick thinking and also tantalizing dribbling skills makes him one of the feared wingers in the league. This can be seen in most of his games in the Malaysian Super League and also Asian Champions League.
- Pace: Very Strong
- Athleticism: Very Strong
- Positioning: Very Strong
- Agility: Very Strong
- Passing: Strong
- Crossing: Strong
- Technique: Strong
- Anticipation: Strong
- Dribbling: Strong
- Strength: Strong
- He lacks in height therefore its only natural for him to lose a few battles in the air. His game maturity will come as time goes as he sometimes loses concentration mid game.
Type of Player
Arif can be seen as more of a provider than a goal scorer as he loves to use his pace down the right channel and provide a cutback for the striker. His play style is somewhat similar to Ajax’s talisman, Dusan Tadic. With few trickeries up his sleeve and the ability to be a nuisance to defenders is what makes Arif a delight to watch. Astonishingly comfortable with the ball at his feet and the confidence in taking on defenders is what makes him an asset to JDT FC. His ability to shoot can also be used when an opportunity arises, his wicked right foot can be a sting in the opponent’s goal. Like Dusan Tadic, drifting wide and isolating defenders before cutting back to a teammate is what Arif Aiman is capable of doing. He also is very capable of tracking back and helping out the defence to negate any attacking threats from the opposing team.
In Possession of the Ball
Arif Aiman possesses great ball handling skills and numerous tricks up his sleeves. His small stature and young age do not define the technical prowess he has to take on defenders older than him with ease. With swagger and confidence, the body feints, the turns he completes really takes his gameplay higher. Completely isolating the wingbacks before engaging in a 1v1 or 2v1 situation, allows him to manipulate the ball with what he wants to do. As a defender before you know it you are left stranded and having to face his silky footwork, to only be slapped with the reality of an ‘eel’ slipping through the gaps. That’s Arif! Leaving defenders for dead and sprinting straight ready for a cross or a cutback, destined for the net to bulge. This can be seen perfectly in the game against UiTM FC, where he isolated the defender before a ‘Ronaldo Chop’ followed by a fake shot and then the rest was history. Coming on as a substitute for Safawi Rasid must have been a huge burden on the shoulder of the 19-year-old, but he handled it like a seasoned veteran with a goal shortly after coming on. He truly is a generational talent. His ball carries and dribbles and also his passing map against Terengganu FC can be seen in the visual analysis below. The infographic is provided by a good friend of mine, Lee Chunhang. We can see in the passing area at how many times he overloads on the right-hand side.
Arif Aiman scoring a league goal against UiTM FC courtesy of ES7 Share.
Arif Aiman 2021 highlights courtesy of FaidhiFootball.
Off the Ball
His off the ball movement is immense, with the versatility of the tactical changes from JDT FC according to games where the team starts of with a 4-3-3 shape to initiate presses as a unit and then creating a 2 v 1 situation on the flanks is where it suits Arif best. His tireless work ethic in applying constant pressure on the opposing wing backs really helps JDT’s flow of attack. His presses usually result in possession gained of the ball. Sometimes drifting wide and also coming in inside to close down the passing lanes of the opposing team is a small but impactive movements that he tends to make in games. His flexibility on the right-hand side really helps the defensive side of things as well where he also acts as a cover shadow for JDT’s wing back, always ready to be an outlet for a defender to pass when possession is retrieved back. His ability to anticipate at moments of the game really helps him in cutting attacks when the opposing team tries to overload the right-hand side. This can be seen in his few games for JDT FC.
Arif Aiman performance vs Terengganu courtesy of Youtube Unifi & JDT Perform Player.
Arif Aiman amazing performance vs UiTM FC courtesy of Haziq Irfan.
Arif Aiman vs Ratchaburi in AFC Champions League courtesy of JDT Perform Player.
The 2020/2021 season for Arif Aiman in the Malaysian Super League really was a storm for him. In the recent National Football Awards or ‘Anugerah Bola Sepak Kebangsaan 2021’, Arif Aiman managed to scoop three awards. He won the category for ‘Best Attacker’, ‘Best Young Player’ and the coveted ‘Most Valuable Player’. He was the youngest footballer to win the ‘Most Valuable Player’ award after Safawi Rasid, his teammate, won the title a year before. He was also rewarded his very first national call up to the Malaysian Senior Football Team to participate in the AFF Suzuki Cup.
Arif Aiman is one of the hottest names in Malaysian Football, eager fans wanting to see him outgrow his potential and senior rival, Safawi Rasid. His technical ability and tactical understanding of the game at a really young age is something new to Malaysian fans. Seeing him dance his way around defenders in the league just leaves us excited to what the future brings for him. Currently playing for JDT FC, a club notoriously known for being the best managed club from top to bottom is a perfect fit for him to keep growing as a player. We would love to see him to expand his wings further in the industry where he can play outside of Malaysia. Alongside Luqman Hakim, Arif Aiman is really another big bang for South-East Asian Football.