NINE years ago, at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Harimau Malaya faced our rivals from across the Causeway for a spot in the third round of the 2014 World Cup Asian qualifiers.
Malaysia lost 6-4 on aggregate but there was little to be ashamed about. A huge banner proclaimed why: “100% Malaysians, No Foreigners, ” it said.
Singapore had a bunch of naturalised players to help them win. And Malaysians pooh-poohed their win.
Fast forward to 2020, and Malaysia has gone a similar way. We have seen players from abroad like Brendan Gan, Matthew Davies, Junior Eldstal, the Insa brothers – Natxo and Kiko – and La’Vere Corbin Ong donning the black and yellow national jersey.
In 2018, Gambian-born winger Mohamadou Sumareh made his debut against Sri Lanka – the first naturalised player in the national team. He is now one of our key players with six goals from 19 games.
Since then, fans have embraced these players, and on social media, fans can be seen suggesting names for the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).
Thanks to the computer simulation game, Football Manager, some social media commenters have identified players of mixed heritage and even contacted these players to see if they are interested in playing for Malaysia.
Recently, two players, Zambian-born Marcel Kalonda and Melaka-born Harry Edge, both with Malaysian heritage, have expressed their interest in playing for Malaysia.
Fans are excited, but we should have reservations now. Back in 2014, I was all for naturalised and mixed heritage players, but lately, I fear we may be going overboard. Football Manager is a computer simulation, it’s not real life.
Remember former American wonderkid Freddy Adu? He was the most sought-after player by gamers early in the millennium. But it really was much Adu about nothing. His real-life career left much to be desired.
This is not to say we should not consider naturalised or mixed heritage players. We just do not need players who want to use the national team to add some glamour to their own curriculum vitae (CV).
The likes of Brendan, Matthew, Sumareh and Corbin have worked hard to be noticed, and in the national team, their contribution is telling. It is obvious that they are in it for the badge.
However, people must realise that local players are good too. People fail to realise that Nor Azam Azih is a vital part of Malaysia’s game thanks to his creativity and ability to dictate the tempo from the middle. Shahrul Saad’s strength at the back is respected by many in the South-East Asian region. And let’s not forget Safawi Rasid, whose incredible left foot is feared in the region.
There are many Nor Azams, Safawis and Shahruls out there. What we should do is to place our trust on the local lads, and have better coaching to keep them on their toes. Some of the former National Football Development Programme (NFDP) boys like Luqman Hakim Shamsudin, Mohd Umar Hakeem Suhar Redzuan, and Mukhairi Ajmal will only get better.
If coaches claim the local boys are not good enough, maybe they must ask themselves if they are doing enough to guide them.
The game is changing, and some of our coaches need to learn that football is not all about passion and hard work. It also involves dynamics of players, tactics, data analytics, injury management and proper training methods.
Instead of obtaining licences as a formality, maybe coaches should genuinely study what is in the course and come up with their own methods that suit the modern game in Malaysia.
We must place trust in our local potential. Instead of shunning them, we should nurture them.
A little help from outside is fine but let’s not go 100% foreign in the future.