Malaysian players have tried their luck in foreign leagues but most aren’t able to make the cut.
IN 2013, we were jolted by news of Nazmi Faiz Mansor’s return from Portugal to Malaysia.
The midfielder was primed for great things after signing a contract with Portuguese first division side SC Beira Mar in 2012 at the young age of 18.
However, after six months, the youngster returned home due to unknown circumstances. Many have criticised the player for giving up so early but he is not the only one to have done so.
Many players have gone abroad and a few have been successful in Asia, but there has yet to be a Malaysian player who has performed consistently in Europe.
During the 80s, players like Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh and the great Mokhtar Dahari had the chance to feature for English clubs but such moves didn’t materialise.
Mokhtar Dahari, who bamboozled Arsenal in the 1975 friendly in Stadium Merdeka, was invited to play for the Gunners but he refused due to his love for Selangor.
I loved him as a player but I just felt he made a mistake by not accepting the offer to play for a top English side that had the likes of Sammy Nelson, David O’Leary and Liam Brady.
In the 80s, Lim Teong Kim moved to Germany and featured for Hertha BSC. He only played for a season but soon gained plaudits as a youth coach in Germany.
In the late 90s, youngsters made themselves noticed and we saw players like Akmal Rizal Rakhli and Rudie Ramli moving to France and Germany respectively.
However, their stints there were short and they’ve since returned to play for clubs in Malaysia.
On the Asian front, players like Safee Sali and Chow Chee Keong – who have played in Indonesia and Hong Kong respectively – have had successful stints overseas.
Here's a list of players who’ve played in clubs abroad:
Stanley Bernard Samuel – Sporting Clube de Goa
Stanley Bernard Samuel kicked off his football career by featuring for Kuala Lumpur in the Premier League. His big break came when he joined club side UPB-My Team in 2009. The then 23-year-old was a consistent performer and created many chances for strikers Norhshahrul Idlan Talaha and Nizaruddin Yusof. In 2009, he decided to go for a new adventure and underwent trials with I-League club, Sporting Clube de Goa. He impressed the coaches and was immediately signed to help them survive in the league. The Kuala Lumpur lad impressed the club with his direct runs and probing passes. Stanley helped them to avoid relegation in that season. He was released at the end of the season due to the I-League’s new format of having four internationals and no quota for Asian players. After that, he moved to Sabah but he couldn’t replicate his usual form with the Borneo side. Stanley has since gone back to Kuala Lumpur and now he features for them in the Premier League.
Safee Sali – FC Pelita Jaya
This man needs no introduction. Since he made his debut with Kuala Lumpur, he has been nothing but short of sensational. Many dubbed him as the next ‘Mokhtar Dahari’ and when he was with Selangor, as he was such a joy to watch. The well-built striker also featured for the National team, and it was during the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup that he announced himself to the region. The then 26-year-old was the top scorer of the tournament with five goals and teams from around Asia and Europe started taking notice him. After several offers, Safee decided to move to Pelita Jaya to become the first Malaysian player to play in the Indonesian Super League. He made an impression in debut, scoring the winning goal against Sriwijaya FC. In that season, he scored four goals in 10 games to help Pelita Jaya beat relegation. The following season, he was given the captaincy and become a fan favourite among the Pelita Jaya fans. He was one top five scorers in the League and he was also the first Malaysian to score a hat trick in a professional league outside Malaysia. In 2013, he left the club for Darul Takzim FC.
Lim Teong Kim – Hertha BSC
Lim Teong Kim is a legend for Kuala Lumpur. Having won the Malaysia Cup three times in a row (1987,1988 and 1989), Lim is currently a respected youth coach in Germany. Having trained the likes of Holger Badtsuber and Thomas Mueller from the Bayern Munchen academy, he continues to nurture a number of youngsters for the Bundesliga side. Before his trophy-winning prowess with Kuala Lumpur in the late 80s, he featured for Bundesliga side, Hertha BSC. The midfielder, who was impressive with Malacca and Selangor during the early 80s, couldn’t replicate his usual form in Germany and his stay with Hertha lasted only one season. He returned to Kuala Lumpur and helped them to win three cups in a row. He capped off his career by featuring for Kedah and after that returned to Germany to coach the youngsters in Bayern Munich.
Fadzli Shaari – SV Wehen
Blessed with strength and height, Fadzli Saari left Malaysia for Europe when he was 19. Fadzli went to Germany to play for Regionalliga Sud side SV Wehen. Together with Rudie Ramli, they were destined for great things and Malaysians were expecting them to become the ambassadors of Malaysian football. However, expectations got the better of them as Fadzli couldn’t adapt to his new surroundings. The forward tried hard to impress but it wasn’t enough for him to earn an extension with the club. He then moved back to Malaysia to feature for his home side, Pahang. Compared with the likes of John Carew and Emile Heskey, Fadzli’s ability to create space for other attackers has been lauded by many, but his inability to finish off chances somewhat curtailed his progress. He currently plays for Premier League side Sime Darby.
Rudie Ramli – SV Wehen
Having trained with the Bayern Munchen academy for few months, Rudie Ramli was also destined for great things with Fadzli Shaari. Having impressed SV Wehen with his technical skills and finishing abilities, the then 19-year-old was signed for one season. Together with Fadzli, he struggled to get into the squad. He was released from the club and joined Selangor. After that, he was dubbed as the ‘Journeyman’ as he changed clubs every season. Currently, he plays for FELDA United in the Super League and is an able partner for Lebanese sensation Mohammad Ghaddar.
Nazmi Faiz Mansor – SC Beira Mar
Nobody will forget his belter against Bahrain during the 2012 Olympic Qualifiers in Bukit Jalil Stadium. Having impressed in the 2011 SEA Games as a 17-year-old, the youngster continued his growth by featuring for Harimau Muda. Rumours were going around that clubs around Europe were scouting the young lad. In 2012, it was announced that Nazmi will move to Portugal to play for SC Beira Mar in the Portuguese First Division. Everybody would have loved to see him play against the likes of Joao Moutinho, Silvestere Varela, Ezequiel Garay and Matias Fernandez. He played for the youth team to aid his development and he impressed with his range of passing and ability from set pieces. Just when we thought he was destined for stardom, the youngster made headlines by quitting the Portuguese club to play for PKNS FC in the 2013 Malaysian Super League. He will feature for PKNS from April onwards.
Ahmad Fakhri Saarani – Atletico S.C.
Steve Darby gave this young man his debut with Perak in 2007 and he impressed by scoring on his debut. In the first four matches of the season, he scored one goal in every game and he was touted to be the next big star of Malaysian football. In 2009, he moved to Perlis and impressed by scoring 16 goals in 24 games. People started noticing his prowess and coaches from around ASEAN praised the youngster’s performances. However, when he moved to Negeri Sembilan in 2010, his form deteriorated. The number of goals reduced but his work-rate was still intact. A national team regular, the 23-year-old got his big break when he announced that he is moving to Portuguese Division 3 club side, Athletico S.C. Having signed a six month contract, many thought he would be rejuvenated and become the old Fakri Saarani. He played a few games for the side but it was a short stint. Recently, he signed a contract with Super League side, Kelantan. He will return to Malaysia this April.
Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli – RC Strasbourg and RSCR Hageuneu
Pacy and skilful, Akmal Rizal Rakhli started his French journey by joining Ligue 2 side RC Strasbourg. To aid his development, the then 19-year-old forward joined RSCR Haguenau on loan and impressed by scoring five goals in 14 games. However such performances wasn’t enough to impress Strasbourg as he was released from the club. He joined Kedah and was impressive during his first stint there. After that he moved to Pahang and later, he played for Selangor, Kuala Muda NAZA, Kelantan and Perak. Now he is back for his second stint with Kedah and his experience will be key for the Canaries.
Titus James Palani – Nanteuil SC and FC Villenoy
He broke the Malaysian Book of Records by juggling a football more than 5,680 times. He was a bright young kid and at the age of 12, he moved to France to train with French side, FC Villenoy. After that, he underwent trials with several French clubs but he couldn’t get find his way in. He stayed in France and has played for several amateur clubs in the hope that professional clubs notice him. The 26-year-old currently plays for Nanteuil FC as a left-back. Recently, he went on trials with Blackburn Rovers. He has been called several times for national training but has yet to receive a cap with the national team.
Wan Zack Wan Haikal, Irfan Fazail and Mohd Fadli Shas – FC Zlate Vion Moravce
He was one of the shining stars during the recent AFF Suzuki Cup. Wan Zack is one of the best attacking midfielders in the country and many Malaysian clubs have tried to sign him from Harimau Muda. In 2011 he joined Slovakian side FC Zlate Vion Moravce after impressing during Harimau Muda’s tour to Slovakia. He started in one match and came in as a substitute many times during his three-month stint with the Corgon Liga side. After that he rejoined Harimau Muda and played in the S-League, where he caught the eye of Japanese league agents. He and Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria underwent trials with FC Ryukyu and impressed. This year, they were offered a contract to play with them and they will be the first Malaysian players to feature in a Japanese League – If they sign the contract. Irfan Fazail and Fadhli Shas also joined the Slovakian club but they only featured as substitutes during their three-month stint.
Chow Chee Keong – Hong Kong Rangers FC, Jardines, South China AA, Tung Sing
He featured in the 1972 Olympics and he was dubbed as the ‘Asian Stainless Steel Man’ by Hong Kong fans. Having started out with Hung Sin Club, which was based in Brickfields, the goalkeeper moved to Hong Kong in his prime. From 1966 to 1970, he was voted by the Asian Football Confederation as the best goalkeeper for five years in a row. In 1968, he came to Hong Kong with a Malaysian Chinese selection side and many Hong Kong clubs took notice of him. Two years later, he joined Hong Kong Rangers FC for three guest matches. Then, he joined Jardines for a salary of HKD2,500 per month, which was the Hong Kong record at that time. After that he joined South China AA and won many trophies with the club. In 1982, he returned to Malaysia and played for the National team for three years. He retired in 1985 and will always be remembered as one of the best goalkeepers in Asia.
Yip Chee Keong – South China AA
A midfielder-cum-winger, Yip Chee Keong once played together with the likes of Hassan Sani and James Wong in the late 70s. James Wong and Hassan Sani may have hogged the headlines by helping Malaysia to qualify for the Olympics in 1980, but Yip Chee Keong quietly made a name for himself when he joined South China AA in Hong Kong. He also has the rare distinction of playing for the national first before featuring for his state team, Selangor. He made an instant impression in Hong Kong as his versatility and technical skills endeared well with the Hong Kong fans. He was also one of the highest paid players in Hong Kong at that time.
> An enhanced version of this story appears in the Star's tablet edition, The Star Editor's Choice Feb 28 edition.