He may not be a global household name just yet but with a FIFA Club World Championship about to kick off and a FIFA World Cup™ around the corner, Asia's Player of the Year 2005 Hamad Al Montashari looks set for big things in the coming months.
Described by many as an alternative type of defender, the Al Ittihad star has already captured the attention of AFC's football technicians with his aggressive approach to the game. Completely assured on the pitch, the 23-year-old was equally confident off it when speaking to FIFA.com.
"It wasn't a big surprise to win the award. I was optimistic, especially after I was shortlisted as one of the three," the tall, lean defender begins, listing qualification for the Germany 2006 and victory in the AFC Champions League as the year's highlights. "But winning it fills me with happiness and pride."
Al Montashari follows the likes of Ali Karimi, Shinji Ono, Ali Daei and Hidetoshi Nakata to have won the award in the past ten years. The most recent defender to scoop the prize was China's Fan Zhiyi in 2001.
"Sure, it's usually the strikers or midfielders who win this award," he agrees before describing his playing virtues. "I think I'm unique because I have qualities many other defenders run away from. I'm playing in a sensitive position; defenders don't normally take risks but I have the confidence to try anything, thank God.
"When you have a defender who can cut out lots of passes, deliver a good ball and build attacks from the back as well as score goals, decisive goals at that, it's likely that people will look at you."
An uncle's helping hand
Al Montashari began playing football when he was just six. Integrated into the Al Ittihad youth set-up by his playing uncle, the boy grew to love the game and rose through the ranks.
"No player can discover he is a big player at once but when you are playing for a club like Ittihad and are chosen for your country it means you are trusted and it gives you the confidence to go on," says the player who reads poetry and watches movies to relax.
After starring in Asia, the defender will very soon come up against the world's best. First up, is a potentially highly charged Arab derby against African champions Al Ahly of Egypt.
"It will be a difficult game for both teams, but we played against them three years ago in Cairo and won 3-2," he recalls. "It does not mean we're going to win but we'll be well prepared. Our coach went to watch them in the African Champions League final against Etoile Sahel."
Ahly go into the game on the back of a record 55-match unbeaten streak but Al Montashari remains unfazed.
"Fifty-five matches undefeated does not mean anything for us. It only has meaning for them. It is their history but they will know who Ittihad are. This is truth not a challenge," he adds with conviction.
"I think the game could go either way but we're confident of our chances. We'll know what we should do two or three hours before the game when we look into each others' faces."
Unlocking the mystery
The Egyptian side's so-called Bermuda Triangle, attackers Emad Motab, Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Barakat, have proved a mystery to African sides for the past 16 months but Asia's best believes he has their number.
"I know all of them. Barakat played in Saudi Arabia and we've faced Motab and Aboutrika in the national team. We've also seen a lot of them on TV," he says. "Motab is a traditional forward with the others coming from behind. They'll all be dangerous but perhaps Barakat could be the most dangerous because of his mobility."
Refreshingly, Al Montashari does not mind contemplating the next match and even, cheekily perhaps, addresses a berth in the final.
"If we beat Ahly and then Sao Paulo, simply playing Liverpool in the final would be glory itself," he adds before revealing a fondness for Manchester United, at least until recently.
"If you don't like Liverpool, you don't like football, especially if you see the match against Chelsea the other night," he adds of their 0-0 draw in the final UEFA Champions League group match, clearly watching from a defender's point of view.
The next week will be a testing time for Al Montashari but if his team can copy the young defender's upbeat approach, then dreams may soon turn to reality in Japan.