PETALING JAYA: The story of goalkeeper Chow Chee Keong is the stuff of legend. He donned Malaysian national colours at the age of 15, turned pro early in the 1970s and strutted his stuff in Hong Kong where they embraced him as their own.
Even Brazil were willing to embrace him as one of their own, asking him to play for Cruzeiro with Brazilian citizenship but Chee Keong said no, and stayed a Malaysian to his death.
Chee Keong, his successor Lim Fung Kee and midfielder Yip Chee Keong, are probably among the earliest Malaysians to have sought a living as a pro abroad. Many have followed in their footsteps but so far, almost all have come home, unable to make the cut in a foreign land, especially in Europe.
But there has been exciting news of late. Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin has joined Belgian club KV Kortrijk while Safawi Rasid is joining Portuguese side Portimonense. It’s something to make Malaysians immensely proud.
The country has had a history of seeing players plying their trade in the European continent known for its rich football culture, but most forays have been shortlived,
From Lim Teong Kim to Nazmi Faiz Mansor, their stints have been short, and many have wondered why they could not stay for long. Also, why have mercurial Malaysian players like Mokhtar Dahari and, more recently, Azman Adnan not tried their luck in Europe?
Some say it is hard for our boys to penetrate that market, but some agents say it is possible to see our players playing in the continent and there are several young talents scattered in Europe.
Activ8 Sports Agency founder Razeen Khalid said Malaysians, like players from any other country, can have a chance to play abroad by being noticed.
“How do players get noticed? Through visuals such as past highlights, footages and built profiles; current performance, which requires presence in scouting networks and good season statistics and actual physical presence, where you have representations or attend trials, ” he said.
“I am currently working on Malaysian talents Omar Raiyan Kama Azlan (15, in Serbia for a UEFA Champions League outfit; Red Star Belgrade FC), Diniz Irwan (18, in Germany), Noah Hafiez (15, in England) and Muhammad Afiq (15, in UAE).
Razeen said our players need to be make themselves more marketable in the global scene because the competition is vast out there.
“Malaysians are hardly projected or tracked well on scouting platforms like Transfermarkt and Soccerway, ” said Razeen, who has a partnership with La Liga club Cadiz.
“Malaysian players do not position themselves to be identified by the international scouting networks because they are too comfortable with the local football scene.”
While youngsters are bold to move abroad, the same cannot be said of professionals, who seem to be comfortable earning their bread and butter in the Malaysian league.
Razeen said it is time to encourage professionals to think global and take calculated measures to consider pursuing a career abroad.
“One obvious thing is the commercial factor for a professional. In academies, players do not get paid extravagant salaries like good professionals do. Most talented ones are sponsored by their teams in terms of fees and board.
“For professionals, the issue of salary and their present domestic commitments often hinder a bold move overseas, unless a big contract is offered or if they are willing to take a cut in wages to gain experience and seek chances abroad.
“I always believe Malaysian football needs a paradigm shift to move in a more positive direction. Over the past few years, we have seen elements of this shift.”
Another agent, Faidauz Azhar of Sports Exeliq Management, said players usually get noticed during tournaments, but agencies do provide profiles and action video on players to clubs, overseas agents and coaches who have a connection with foreign clubs.
“We are fortunate that we have direct access to some clubs in Europe and also some in Asia and Asean countries due to our relationships with some reputable foreign coaches, ” said Faidauz, who managed four Malaysian boys in Europe and Asia.
Faidauz believes many of our current local professionals have not reached the European or Asian football standards as they have not played at the highest level in Asia.
Also competitiveness and intensity of the local leagues are not high enough for players to be playing at top level. At the moment, we have only one club that play in the Asian Champions League consistently –JDT.
“You can see in the team that the players’ level is somewhat better than others due to their exposure playing in the ACL regularly.
“If you noticed, in the last couple of years, many players attended trials, but none really got a spot. Players should prepare early and do their homework before attending trials abroad.
“Physical and mental strength readiness is essential, and they have to be at their highest ability to cope with the ever demanding and challenging higher football level.
“Discipline is also key. In this area, the agency’s role is to prepare the player and club to get an official letter or invite before the player attends trials, visa arrangements and logistics are vital but the most important thing is to get the players to settle down as quickly as possible when they arrive there.”
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