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Monday December 9, 2013 MYT 7:30:00 AM
Sunday December 8, 2013 MYT 10:10:55 PM
by eric samuel AND k. rajan
Tam Sheang Tsung, 18, is currently with Shanghai Shenhua's reserve squad.
WHY do footballers from Malaysia fail to shine away from home?
We have heard of the stars from Asia – Ali Daei (Iran and Bayern Munich), Hideotoshi Nakata (Japan and Perugia), Ahn Jung-hwan (South Korea and Perugia), Shinji Ono (Japan and Feyenoord), Sun Ji Hai (China and Manchester City), Park Ji-sung (South Korea and Manchester United), Shunsuke Nakamura (Japan and Celtic), Keisuke Honda (Japan and CSK Moscow), Ali Al-Habsi (Oman and Wigan) and Shinji Kagawa (Japan and Manchester United).
The Middle East had some great talents, too. There was Majeed Abdullah, the “Desert Pele” from Saudi Arabia; and Sami al-Jaber, who had a short stint with English club Wolves.
From our neighbours Singapore, there was golden boy Fandi Ahmad who made a name for himself with Dutch side – FC Groningen.
Some of the Malaysians on the foreign trail were Dali Omar in Australia (Azzurri of Perth), Lim Teong Kim in the Bundesliga (Hertha Berlin), and Akmal Rizal Rakhli (Strasbourg) and Titus James (Nanteuil), both in France.
A few were with pro clubs in Hong Kong in the 70s – namely Chow Chee Keong, Wong Kam Fook, Lim Fung Kee, Wong Choon Wah and Yip Chee Keong.
Greats of the past
Of course, there were a number of great talents from the past who did not explore the idea of plying their trade overseas – such as the late Datuk Ghani Minhat, Mokhtar Dahari and Spiderman R. Arumugam.
Then, there was Towkay Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, M. Chandran, James Wong, Hassan Sani, Namat Abdullah, Shukor Salleh and a host of others who were houshold names in the 70s and 80s.
However, since Malaysian football turned professional in 1994 (almost 20 years now) ... expectations have been higher to see more of our local talents on the foreign trail.
It seems the natural expectation what with footballers in other Asian countries going to foreign shores, especially Europe.
But what a disappointment. In the past 20 years, our footballers have been unable to penetrate in Europe or even in Asia.
Why have our footballers become “jaguh kampung” (village champions)?
Up-and-coming talent Mohd Nazmi Faiz is an example in point. He made headlines when he signed a three-year contract with Portuguese club, SC Beira-Mar in May last year. In a surprise move, the teenager made a U-turn and returned home barely eight months later.
Due to his young age, Nazmi was drafted to the Under-19 youth team of Beira-Mar. Nazmi made his debut with Beira-Mar in a friendly match against CD Tondela which ended in a 1-1 draw. He scored his first goal for the U-19 youth team of Beira-Mar, a few days after his 18th birthday.
But instead of continuing to ply his trade in Portugal, he chose to pack his bags and return home.
Nazmi is only one example.
What seems to be the challenge for Malaysian boys trying to make it professionally overseas?
Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, a veteran coach with over 30 years of experience, feels that the wannabe footballers have not been taught the tough demands of professional football and how to survive in a foreign country.
“It is a culture shock ... the players need proper guidance before they can set foot in a new place. How can a teenager manage on his own after having stayed with his parents all his life? All of a sudden he leaves home and has to be all alone in a foreign country. Is there food on the table? Who will help him out with the chores?
“Of course, he will lose heart easily. He will find it difficult to adapt to the new environment and conditions. The next step is to find the fastest way out,” says Abdul Rahman.
On a positive note, Abdul Rahman believes Malaysian players have the talent to make it big in the game. However he feels they need professional guidance on how to handle the challenges of being abroad, besides the competition on the field.
He believes they must learn to cope with a new culture, new living atmosphere and most importantly be able to stand on their own two feet ... away from home and parents.
“They have to fend for themselves. It is a new start in their career and they don’t have the luxuries which they used to enjoy at home. Food is served on the table and the clothes are washed ... so it has been easier at home. Once they leave home they are on their own and with no friends. This is when they have to be strong,” says Abdul Rahman.
Football legend Dali Omar, 67, says locals must be brave to face challenges and prove that Malaysians are no pushovers.
“If you want to play in any part of the world, you must be better than their players. If not, don’t waste your time,” says Dali.
As a 26-year-old, and at the prime of his career, the national striker set out to make a name for himself in Australia in 1972. He landed a year’s trial with First Division side Azzurri of Perth (now known as Perth Glory) and mesmerised them with his skill and tenacity. He then turned to coaching with Olympics Kingsway before finally settling down in Australia.
Dali says he was disheartened to read the number of locals, who have gone for trials without any success.
“They must have self-belief,” he says.
Dali still has fond memories of the time he made waves in Western Australia 41 years ago.
“I was the first to go out of Malaysia. At that time, I was the master in scoring goals, especially with my shooting and heading abilities,” he recalls from his home in Kota Baru.
“It was my mental toughness and good playing ability that made me an instant hit with the Australian club. I got down to business in the opening game itself, scoring a hat-trick. I remember the fans were screaming and calling me Pele! ... Pele!
“The message is simple for all aspiring footballers ... if you want to survive in Europe, then you just have to be better than them. There are no two ways about it.”
But, are they good enough?
Armed Forces coach B. Sathianathan says there are several factors which contribute to the failure of Malaysian players in carving out a name for themselves outside the country.
“Technically, our players are not good enough,” says Sathianathan frankly.
The former national coach says players are also mentally not strong enough to cope with the new football culture – training methods, especially in Europe which are more strenuous.
Sathianathan says the mindset of Malaysians has got to change first, and this begins with the parents.
“We have to learn from Japan and Korea. The parents are very supportive of their kids' development programme in football. It is the parents who play a big role in the kids' success to become professional footballers. But it is different here – with our parents placing education as the top priority.
“We don’t start them young compared to Japan and Korea. The boys are playing competitive football at the age of seven or eight years. We have a long way to catch up with the Asian giants,” he admits.
Fruitless FAM efforts
The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have been trying in various ways and means to raise the standard of the game in their bid to improve the national team.
The irony is that all their attempts have proved futile and we are still lagging in a dismal 158th in the FIFA rankings and 31st in Asia behind Maldives, Singapore and Bangladesh.
Malaysia’s best achievement is qualifying for the Olympics twice (1972 Munich and Moscow 1980). We have never qualified to the World Cup Finals.
In Asia, the notable achievements are two bronze medals at the Jakarta Asian Games in 1962 and 1974 Asian Games in Tehran.
Obviously, many changes must be made in Malaysian football before our boys can and will excel abroad.
It begins with the mentality of parents and players, and ends with the footballers' own determination to succeed abroad.
If footballers from Iran, Oman, China, Japan and Singapore can excel abroad, why not Malaysians?
Our past footballers proved to us it can be done, and that Malaysians are no mere “jaguh kampung”, now it's time for the current generation to follow in their footsteps.
Tags / Keywords:
football, Malaysia, foreign, abroad, Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, Dali Omar, B. Sathianathan
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