Will fans support Harimau Malaya with foreign players?

The influx of foreign and naturalised players in the M-League is seriously threatening to ruin Malaysian football and fan support.

Some 600 foreign players from 90 countries have graced stadiums nationwide since 1989 when semi-professional football was introduced.

They include players from minnows in world football such as Afghanistan, Mauritania, Macedonia, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Fiji.

From 2014 to this year, 25 players have been naturalised, eight of whom had no stints with either Harimau Malaya or junior national teams.

The national team has two naturalised players – with no ties to Malaysia – in Gambia’s Mohamadou Sumareh and Kosovo’s Liridon Krasniqi.

The heritage players in the team are Brendan Gan, Matthew Davies, both from Australia, La’Vere Corbin-Ong (England) and Dominic Tan from Singapore.

Has the flow of foreign players done more good than harm for Malaysian football? Efforts to boost fan turnout with the presence of foreigners in the M-League has had limited success.

Malaysia has become a dumping ground for aging and half-baked players and is cruelly referred to by many as a “retirement home”.

Some of the players, who earned high salaries, were affected by social problems as football suffered and agents continued to make good money.

The policies pertaining to foreign players have changed numerous times since the inception of the M-League. In 2009, FAM made a bold move to ban foreigners from playing in the league until 2011. They were allowed back the next season.

It used to be two foreigners per team, but now each team in the Super and Premier leagues is allowed five foreign players with a mandatory two players from Asia or Asean.

When FAM decided to ban foreigners, then deputy president Khairy Jamaluddin said the national body’s 16 affiliates had unanimously agreed that the move would raise the standard of football.

The first ban was in 1999 during the Asian financial crisis. It was revoked three years later. Khairy felt some import players neither had quality nor helped improve the standard of the league.

This week, Malaysian football was stunned when FAM deputy president Yusoff Mahadi invited fans to scout for heritage players playing abroad.

Yusoff, who is also FAM’s naturalisation programme committee chairman, in welcoming foreigners to play for Malaysia, said: “We don’t have enough manpower to scout (the world for players with Malaysian heritage). Those who have information can help us.”

Seriously, Yusoff?

The national team manager has also made statements like “How long has Malaysia to wait for local players to rise to the occasion?” He had opined that naturalised players would spur local players to work harder, raise their game and fight for their slots in the national team.

Football Coaches Association of Malaysia president B Sathianathan thinks otherwise. He said: “The move to encourage naturalised players to make the national team will demotivate local players.”

While FAM is taking a cautious stand on the matter, state teams and clubs are gleefully hiring foreign players. How can Malaysian football not head for disaster when wrong messages are launched?

The chances of talented youngsters giving up football are high. Young boys waiting to be discovered in remote places will be disappointed. Instead of combing the length and breadth of Malaysia for raw talent, it is sad that we have to resort to foreigners.

Raw talent does not bring instant results, but isn’t it better to have a long-term plan than to opt for shortcuts?

One wonders if all the money spent on foreigners over the years could have been better spent in the development of Malaysian football.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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