PETALING JAYA: Video gamers are on the hunt for foreigners, hoping to turn them into Malaysia’s next football stars.
They comb the databases of games like “Football Manager” to locate foreigners who have an ancestral background in Malaysia.
These gamers have added a worrying dimension to the question of allowing foreigners into the national team.
A local gamer, Zulkifli Malik, has recommended a Congolese, Marcel Kalonda, and a New Zealander, Harry Edge, to the Football Association of Malaysia.
Another unidentified gamer alerted FAM to England-based Kobe Jae Chong.
Zulkifli wrote about Marcel in a football blog: “A Malayan tiger in Zambia. My name is Marcel Kalonda and I am Malaysian.”
Several ex-internationals told FMT that Harimau Malaya was at risk of losing its identity.
They wondered if the gamers were doing it for money.
FAM secretary-general Stuart Ramalingam confirmed that the national body had received the recommendations, but would adopt strict screening and go by Fifa regulations.
He described the case of 22-year-old Marcel, who plays in Zambia, as a “social media drama”.
Stuart said Marcel has not shown proof of any links to Malaysia except to say his late grandfather was Sabahan.
Marcel turned out for Zambia’s Zesco United in the Confederation of African Football Champions League.
While his credentials might be impressive, the debate rages over foreign players seeking naturalisation.
The FAM’s Naturalisation Programme Committee set up in 2018 seems to send out the message that Malaysia is serious about naturalising players.
Committee head Mohd Yusoff Mahadi, who is also deputy FAM president and national team manager, had recently stated:
“How long does Malaysia have to wait for local players to rise to the occasion?”
Many said his statement demotivated local players.
Players recruited by the committee include JDT’s Kosovo-born midfielder Liridon Krasniqi, 28, who was granted Malaysian citizenship recently after living here for five years.
He is the second non-heritage foreigner to be naturalised after Pahang’s Gambia-born Mohamadou Sumareh who received citizenship in 2018.
Brazilian Guilherme de Paula, 33, has also applied to be a naturalised player. After three seasons with Kuala Lumpur, he now plays for Perak.
FAM and state football associations have previously naturalised Matthew Davies, Darren Lok, Brendan Gan, Kiko Insa and Natxo Insa, all of whom have ancestral ties.
Under Fifa rules, players must have a parent or grandfather born in the country that they wish to represent.
Foreign-born players must live in the country of their choice for at least five years, after reaching the age of 18, without having played for another national team.