Liridon Krasniqi says Kedah hungry for FA Cup glory vs. Pahang
Kedah's Liridon Krasniqi will be one of the most dangerous players in Saturday's Malaysia FA Cup final against Pahang, but the creative genius attributes his silky skills to the tough days working as a labourer.
The Kosovar playmaker, who has scored three goals in the competition, is expected to be given heavy attention by the Pahang midfield when the teams face off at Shah Alam Stadium in front of 80,000 fans.
But it was only five years ago that Liridon was laying down bricks and doing hard labour in Germany after a two-year FIFA ban.
"I signed for Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic when I was 17, and it was tough because you are alone in a different country, a new environment and do not speak the language," Liridon told ESPN FC.
"I was scared and I did not have any money to eat sometimes, let alone send my family any cash. One day I just left without even telling the management, because I also had financial issues with them.
"Because of that, I was banned by FIFA and could not play any competitive football for two years. I was with my family in Germany, but I needed money to survive, so I worked as a labourer. It was one of the most difficult periods of my life, but I never gave up and believed in my qualities.
"I worked in the mornings, and trained by myself in the afternoons. After that I finally got a lucky break to play in Turkey, before Kedah came for me. That journey toughened me up to become the player I am today, and I hope to be an inspiration to others."
Since joining Kedah from Turkish club Fethiyespor in 2015, Liridon inspired the team to gain promotion to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) that same year.
He was part of the side who lost to Selangor in the 2015 Malaysia Cup final before avenging that defeat to the Red Giants in the same stage last year.
This season, the 25-year-old converted the decisive spot kick to win the Kedah the Charity Shield at the expense of Johor Darul Ta'zim in January.
Not one to shy away from the limelight, Liridon thrives for Cup final occasions such as this.
"No money in the world can buy you this moment of playing in a Cup final. I love big games like this, it is where legends are born. It is occasions like this you can show everyone you are a big game player," he said.
Liridon also has no qualms about being tightly marked by Pahang.
"I always have one to two players marking me. Sometimes they just try to agitate me by kicking me, and it is not easy to handle sometimes. But I have my ways to deal with it, and it will be the same against Pahang," he said.
"For me, Kedah winning 1-0 is more than enough. We want to reward the fans who have shown us so much of love throughout the season."
Kedah last clinched the FA Cup trophy in 2008, the year which they also won the MSL and Malaysia Cup.
This year, they had been on a 12-match unbeaten run until Tan Cheng Hoe announced his retirement as head coach to join the national setup.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.