THERE’S no place like home, but if you are a footballer with big dreams, home is not the place you want to be.
In Malaysian terms, there’s nothing like playing away from home to build character, skills and maturity for players.
Former national striker Akmal Rizal Rakhli should know.
He has played for French Ligue 2 side R.C. Strasbourg and RSCR Haguenau.
And he says more players should join the footsteps of Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin and Safawi Rasid, the latest two players to get stints in Europe.
Luqman is with KV Kortrijk in Belgium while Safawi is set to join Portimonense in Portugal’s top league.
Akmal said with more Malaysians playing abroad, the national team would not need to rely on naturalised players as the overseas-based Malaysians would be good enough.
Now an assistant coach for Penang in the Premier League, Akmal said his stint in Europe was valuable but had to cut short his stint due to injury.
“It’s good to see our boys playing in Europe. It is not easy to get this chance. They must use this chance, whether it is a big or small country,” he said.
“When they come back to play for Malaysia, they will be much more matured and be a role model for youngsters here.
“Malaysia will have a stronger team if we have more boys playing for clubs in Europe and top clubs in Asia. We do not need naturalised players,” he enthused.
Akmal started his French journey by joining Ligue 2 side R.C. Strasbourg in 1999. 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, two months before his contract expired, he suffered a hamstring injury, and there were no offers in Europe.
Akmal, who returned to Malaysia in 2001 to continue with his boyhood club Kedah, said he would cherish the experience for a long time.
“The football environment was different in 1999, the facilities in France are different compared to what I had in Malaysia at the time,” he said.
“Their infrastructure was the best, they had everything. It allowed players to give their best. I also learnt to play against more prominent defenders compared to the ones in Malaysia.
“In the beginning, it was tough because I had to adapt to the culture and weather. After three weeks, I could live with the weather and environment.
“I learnt French to communicate with my teammates and food was not an issue as there are lots of Arabian restaurants.”
Akmal said the likes of Luqman and Safawi should use this opportunity, make an impression and stay in Europe for as long as possible.
“I hope they have the willpower to do well in Europe. If they are mentally and physically strong, they can compete against the best. Besides, they are connected with their loved ones via internet and smartphones.
Petaling Jaya City’s striker Safee Sali is another player who made his name abroad, playing for Pelita Jaya in Indonesia from 2010 to 2011. He was a big hit there as he often started and even captained the team in some matches.
“I was the main character in the team at the time, and was also captain at times. I also had trials with Cardiff City for two weeks, and I saw the level of professionalism in every aspect.
“The key to doing well overseas is to immediately adapt to the surroundings, such as the language, culture and environment. If you are quick, your performance will be good on the pitch.”
Safee observed that many players return early from abroad because they cannot adapt.
“Just think about football. Do not ever think of giving up. Learn how to socialise with your teammates on and off the field to cope with the loneliness there.
“There is a Malay saying, ‘Berakit rakit dahulu, bersenang-senang kemudian’ (You have to struggle first, to have things easy later).”
Did you find this article insightful?