Zulfahmi Arifin glad to be Home in S.League to link up with Azhar Sairudin

Singapore midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin is thrilled to be back at Home United in the S.League where it all started, and is looking forward to finally playing alongside his mentor Azhar Sairudin.

The free-kick specialist joined the Protectors after LionsXII's abrupt exit from Malaysian domestic competitions.

Along with LionsXII teammates Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli, the trio will join the likes of former German Bundesliga striker Ken Ilso, Sirina Camara and Ambroise Begue as the club's biggest stars.

Zulfahmi, however, sees veteran playmaker Azhar as the man who holds the key to Home's title chances, after the latter had a sensational season last time out with eight goals in all competitions.

"I've been looking up to him since I was 17," Zulfahmi told ESPN FC. "I have always chatted with him since a few years back asking for advice as a senior, and he has always been willing to help.

"He makes football look easy because of the way he plays. Apart from national team captain Shahril Ishak, Firdaus Kasman and Shahdan Sulaiman, Azhar is one of the players I have always wanted to play with on the same team. We did joke about getting that opportunity to play together and now it has come true."

Besides Azhar, two other players that Zulfahmi rates among the best are club captain Juma'at Jantan and towering centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim.

"Abdil had a great season last year and he's one of the key members at the back. Of course captain Jum'at will have to guide the other young defenders because it won't be easy for them." he added.

"Then you have Ken who played in a top league like the Bundesliga. It is good for us players to learn as much as we can from him. It will be about gelling as a team and we shall see what happens from there."

With head coach Philippe Aw's mantra of giving opportunities to the next generation of footballers, some of Singapore's top youth footballers like Mahathir Azeman and the Fandi brothers Ikhsan and Irfan have signed up for the exciting project.

These youngsters may need time to get up to speed with professional football, but Zulfahmi reckons their presence will help players like him maintain their standards while also guiding them along the way.

"We are happy to have them [Ikhsan and Irfan] joining us. They will add a different dimension to our games. Home gave young players a lot of playing time last year so by them coming here, they stand a good chance to show what they are made off. And not forgetting other talented youngsters like Luqman [Ismail] and Amir Zalani."

Despite strong interest from other S.League clubs, Zulfahmi always had his eyes set on a move back to the club where it all started for him as a budding youngster.

He said: "I started playing football with this club until I left to join the national football academy U18s. I think it was only right for me to come back to them.

"Another reason I wanted to play for this club is because they sincerely wanted my services. It feels good to be welcomed by a big club like Home. Every player will love that."

As for his long-term future, the midfielder has kept his target for the season simple, as he works towards the dream of playing abroad in the near future.

"Every player has targets set by themselves and I am no different. It would be a dream to play in the Thai Premier League but it's not easy to be able to play there. For this year, I just want to get on the pitch and enjoy my football."

The Protectors will kick off their S.League season with a home game against 2014 champions Warriors FC, as the game carries even more significance, with the club returning to the Bishan Stadium, having spent last year playing their home games at the Yishun Stadium due to the Southeast Asian Games.