Arif's off to try his luck in the Lion City
Have stick will travel. This is what Hong Kong's leading player Arif Ali will aim to do as he packs his kitbag and becomes a full-time professional by joining the Singapore League next month. And he says it is doubtful that he will play in the local league in the future.
Arif, 22, will play for the Singapore Recreation Club in the Lion City's national league from February to May. He will then move on to the more competitive scene in Malaysia where he will either rejoin the Royal Malay Regiment or move on to another First Division side when that country's season starts in October.
And during the summer, the KCC midfielder is looking at going back to his roots - to Pakistan - where he is looking at the prospect of training with the national squad in Lahore. His ambition does not end there. The youngest of Hong Kong's Ali brothers is looking at playing in Europe next year, either in England or in Holland.
'I want to play abroad as I feel this is the only way to keep improving my game. Although the local league is more competitive this season, I feel I can make more progress by playing elsewhere,' said Arif yesterday.
Last year saw him play a full season in Malaysia. Although his team did not fare all that well, Arif starred scoring a hatful of goals and ended as captain of the Malay Regiment. He returned home last November and played for Hong Kong in the Super Cup. He is presently involved with Kowloon Cricket Club in the South China Premier League, but feels the move to Singapore would further his career.
'The risk of getting injured here is much more than when I played in Malaysia. The umpiring in Hong Kong is weak and the players are not as protected. And while the competition is tougher this year, I think it is better for me to move on. I don't think I will be back to play in the local league. But I will be available for Hong Kong whenever they want me,' he said.
The national squad will not have many assignments in 2004 - apart from the Super Cup which is planned for December. The next big date will be in 2005 when the East Asian Games is held in Macau and the All China Games in Nanjing.
With KCC languishing at the bottom of the standings in this inaugural South China Premier League season, Arif has decided to take the opportunity of moving to Singapore.
'KCC is a young team. I have enjoyed playing against sides like Football Club and Guangzhou, but still I find it frustrating playing in the local league as I feel I'm not learning and improving my game. I think the answer is abroad,' Arif said.
This season the Hong Kong Hockey Association opened its doors to teams from Guangzhou and Macau to make the South China Premier League a competitive eight-team tournament. Guangzhou are currently in the lead at the halfway stage. KCC are seventh.
'I want to play hockey full-time as a professional. This year it will be in Singapore and Malaysia. But next year I'm looking at England and Holland too. I have already made initial contact. But moving to Europe will be a long-term decision. Besides hockey, I will try to study too,' said Arif.
Arif, who pipped squash ace Rebecca Chiu to be named KCC Sportsperson of the Year (2003), could turn out for his last game either tomorrow, against Valley, or next Sunday against Football Club.
Hong Kong Football Club will host the traditional Hong Kong Easter Nines hockey festival from April 9-11 at the Happy Valley ground. This year's event will host a 'First Division' open to elite teams from around the world.