PETALING JAYA: The name N. Thanabalan was on everyone’s lips during the 2017 SEA Games. The young striker headed in Malaysia’s winning goal against Indonesia in the semi-finals and was the country’s top scorer with four goals.
His exploits won him comparison with legendary national striker Datuk N. Thanabalan, the only man to have scored four goals in a Malaysia Cup final, when Selangor beat Penang 8-1 in 1968.
Three years on, the younger N. Thanabalan is a forgotten man, who has not even been able to find a permanent place in any Malaysia League team.
He is now hoping to revive his career with his loan deal with Perak II in the lower Premier League.
The winger joined FA Cup winners Kedah for the 2019 season after featuring for Negri Sembilan for five years since 2013.
But he struggled to make an impact with the Red Eagles and could only score one goal in 17 appearances. The 23-year-old conceded that it was a struggle to compete against foreign attackers in the team.
“I have to admit I couldn’t break into the starting XI. It’s tougher when you have to compete against foreigners who have experience and physical advantage... you end up only getting limited playing time to prove yourself, ” said the Seremban-born Thanabalan.
“I don’t blame the coach or team management because they cannot take the risk of playing locals and losing matches... this is a problem faced by most teams in the M-League.
“You cannot see many locals playing as strikers in the M-League... our league is dominated by foreign strikers.”
Thanabalan, who helped Malaysia reach the quarter-final of the 2018 AFC Under-23 championship and won silver in the Kuala Lumpur Games in 2017, admitted he lacks match fitness but believes Perak II coach Abu Bakar Fadzim can whip him back to shape.
Thanabalan said playing for Perak II, a feeder team for Super League side Perak, also gives him a chance to return to the top flight.
“I just lack match fitness. Coach Abu Bakar knows me well and has plans for me... he believes in my abilities and I really want to repay him with a good performance, ” said Thanabalan.
“I don’t think dropping down to play in the Premier League is an issue... I have played in the Premier League with Negri Sembilan and even in the lower division with Felcra before.
“It’s all about how you perform... I’m confident of my abilities but I just need matches to get back to my old form.”
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