26 Apr 2022 | 08:07 | Football
Critics say Malaysia’s attempt to boost its football fortunes with naturalized players has failed, critics say, the national team has not made its first World Cup appearance and is looking for inspiration about the domestic match situation.
Football is one of the most popular sports in a country of more than 30 million people but at the international level, Malaysia is the little guys – 154th in the FIFA rankings, one place behind Andorra.
Malaysian fans have long had high hopes when football’s governing bodies kicked off their naturalization program in 2018, ahead of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers in Qatar, and some players were born abroad. have been naturalized.
But this plan was delayed in August after Malaysia’s tilt at the World Cup was again short-lived, with naturalized players losing some points.
Naturalized players can still play for the national team but no new players will enter the door in the near future.
Santokh Singh, who played for the national team in the 1970s and 1980s – better times – says a renewed focus is needed on training local players.
“We have a lot of good local players who are able to perform better than foreigners… they don’t get a chance to play,” the 69-year-old told AFP.
“Naturalization of the players is stupid.”
Malaysia is one of a number of countries that have sought to elevate their national team by naturalizing foreign players.
From China and Japan to Mexico and even Spain, it has become a growing trend, with soccer players from Brazil particularly fond of.
But it has sparked controversy, with some, such as wealthy Qatar, accused of lining up their teams with foreigners with little connection to the country they are representing.
In 2007, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter warned of “invaders from Brazil” flooding the countries and governing bodies that had tightened regulations.
Those with no ancestral connection to a country must have resided there for at least five years before being eligible to play for that national team.
In the case of Malaysia, Gambia-born Mohamadou Sumareh was the first player to be granted citizenship during the naturalization process, making his national team debut in 2018.
He started playing for Malaysian clubs in 2013 and is currently a winger for Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), who has won the top 8 Super League since 2014.
Following him were Liridon Krasniqi, born in the former Yugoslavia, and Guilherme de Paula, born in Brazil.
More common are players who grew up abroad but have Malaysian parents and decide to return to Malaysia, where they have more international opportunities.
The naturalization project faced fierce criticism after Malaysia lost to Vietnam and the UAE in a World Cup qualifier last June, dashing hopes for Qatar.
Two months later, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) said the plan was being put on hold.
FAM Secretary General Mohamad Saifuddin Abu Bakar told AFP.
Some believe that Malaysia should focus on addressing the deep-seated problems, rather than overemphasizing the failures of the naturalization project.
“I think there are more structural issues that are more important to long-term success,” said Steve Darby, a football coach and consultant with many years of experience in Asia, including in Malaysia. , told AFP.
“Improve the training facilities and also the stadium.”
While they have never been a serious competitor to the strongest teams in the region such as Japan and South Korea, the Malaysian national team has had better days.
The country qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but withdrew when Malaysia joined the US-led boycott of the Olympics in protest of the invasion of Afghanistan.
The national team won a place at the Asian Cup, the tournament where the region’s top national teams play against each other every four years, in 1976 and 1980.
Not everyone is critical of the naturalization project, believing it could have good results as part of a broader strategy.
B. Sathiananthan, who coached the Malaysian national team from 2007-2009, said it is understandable that coaches sometimes look at policy.
“If you are offered a two-year contract, do you think you can wait for the local players to get in shape?” he say.
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