ARE foreign players and naturalised players the answer to Malaysian football woes?
The question of foreign players dominating the M-League and a coach resorting to naturalised players to anchor the national team, has been tossed around like a rugby ball.
It has re-surfaced with the latest national coach Nelo Vingada toying with the idea of banking on naturalised players and duly declaring that the domination of foreigners, especially in the striker’s role, has limited his selection of locals.
There is nothing new in Vingada’s panacea because for close to a decade now, the problem has been compounded by the rising intake of foreign players in the M-League.
Former national coaches Datuk K. Rajagobal and B. Sathianathan, who had also questioned the lack of good local strikers, were instead singled out to face the disciplinary board.
As in their defence, Vingada too cannot be blamed for the pursuit of naturalised players as he has to attain results for a good track record in his two-year contract. The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) only offer a short contract but expect instant results.
Henceforth, after locking in naturalised players, he has to count on local veterans. Sure, he can manage to string a few good results with the older stars and a few naturalised players, but when they exit after two years, the national team is back to square one. The veteran players fade out and Malaysian football flounders further.
FAM ought to address the real issue of a level playing field — the huge presence of foreign players in the M-League (more than 90 this season) that stunts the exposure of budding locals.
Every team in the M-League hires foreign strikers — a vicious cycle. After 14 matches of the Super League, foreigners top the scorers’ list while the best local hitman is JDT’s Safiq Rahim with eight goals while the leading scorer is Lebanese Mohamad Ghaddar with 20 goals.
A revival of Malaysian football will need two Olympic cycles — eight years — and at worst, a minimal six-year programme.
Coaches or technical directors must be hired on longer contracts so they can start working with youth players. Fans too must wait out the long term vision. Or look back at Datuk K. Rajagobal, who, as national coach won the Sea Games gold in 2009 in Laos after 20 years and the Suzuki (AFF) Cup in 2010.
Many who started with him as youth players are still with the national team, including the likes of Shafiq Rahim, Azamuddin Mohd Akil, Amir Yahaya, Aidil Zafuan, S. Kunalan, Safee Ali, Mahalli Jasuli, Badrol Bakhtiar, Mohd Syazwan Zainon and Mohd Amirulhadi Zainal.
So are naturalised players the best leg forward for Malaysian football? Do we want an ‘international team’ instead of a national team?
Latest comes the appointment of a new technical advisor in Dutchman Peter de Roo, following the two-year contract of German Fritz Schmid.
The FAM is also hiring a ‘ranking consultant’. Win matches over better ranked teams, and the rankings go up. The mode for ranking is all tabulated and known to all. Is there a backdoor to a rise in rankings? Malaysian football never fails to puzzle!
TONY is a Sports Journalist with close to four decades’ experience and is passionate about local sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org