The FA of Malaysia has literally changed the complexion of the national team, by colouring it predominantly with mixed shades of white.
Some seem to like the brushwork, many still prefer their familiar single-colour-coated portrait. There are those who are fine with multiple colours, as long as it has a local flavour.
Sadly, those who believe this mix-and-match technique is a mismatch won’t be convinced, even if this new burst of foreign colours transforms into a work of art.
Yes, this is about the infusion of naturalised foreign players, predominantly Caucasians, into the national team. They have formed the core of the team, sometimes outnumbering the Malay-Malaysians in coach Kim Pan Gon’s lineups.
The South Korean, who didn’t know what the racial classifications were until he came here, sees all his players as Malaysians, regardless of colour and their ancestries or heritages. All he is focused on is putting together the best Malaysian side, to get the best results.
And I believe even the “colourists” would agree, that Kim has done a good job so far, securing what seemed an unassailable slot in the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023.
Though the FIFA World Cup 2026 is still a pipe dream, Kim has kept Malaysia in the hunt for one of the eight automatic slots for Asia.
As much as we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves in this World Cup qualifier, I am quite sure that this multi-coloured national side will not make their exit without battling until the final whistle. That is because these naturalised foreign players have competed on level playing fields, and have become combative in the process.
FAM president Hamidin Amin, the main architect of this revolutionary method, was largely criticised in conversations across the country for being unpatriotic by depriving locals the opportunities to don national colours.
But which part of patriotism do these detractors not understand? There was no outcry when the other races were left out of the national teams of the recent past, were there? Was depriving the other races from representing the country, any less unpatriotic?
Sometimes, we Malaysians are too parochial for our own good. What has patriotism got to do with football? Patriotism is about Malaysians responding to the white flag for those who are hungry. It is about Malaysians collectively gathering to help the needy in flood situations, the homeless, and the sick, to name just a few such acts.
Decades ago, the world of football threw its doors wide open to provide opportunities for players to trade their fare, and even their citizenships, for adopted countries needing their services. We need to evolve with the changing face of world football.
The world football powers already have.
Take France, for instance. Does anyone seriously believe that the Les Bleus would have won the FIFA World Cup in 1998 in France, and in 2018 in Russia, or the European Nations Cup in 2000, if not for the African players?
Nine members of France’s World Cup-winning squad in 1998 were either immigrants, or the children of immigrants. When the French team won again two decades later, the squad carried 17 immigrants or children of immigrants, and all but two of whom were of African descent. (Source: Africa Times, July 16, 2018)
But the shades of black did nothing to deter the Caucasian French nationals from turning out in droves at the Stade de France in Paris in 1998, and at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow in 2018.
I was there at the Stade de France with my mates Fauzi Omar, and Johnson Fernandez, watching the Caucasian French in a sea of blue get behind their team in an emphatic 3-0 win over Brazil, totally oblivious to the colour peculiarities. It was no different when I was at the Luzhniki Stadium 10 years later in Moscow when France beat Croatia 4-2 in the final.
But here, Malaysian fans are still grappling with the ostensible irregularities that the shades of white bring to the national team. They seem to have issues with having whites and partial whites in the Harimau Malaya strips. It seems like we were fast asleep while the world was changing swiftly.
Perhaps, that’s why this “albino” Harimau Malaya has not been able to fill up seats at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, even though it has definitely had a lot more success than the teams of late.
One would have thought that after securing a seemingly unassailable Asian Cup slot on merit, there would have been at least 40,000 fans at Bukit Jalil to roar Malaysia to the gallant 4-3 win against Kyrgyzstan recently. But they couldn’t even assemble more than 18,000 spectators.
But kudos to the band of fans who call themselves Ultras Malaya, who are there behind the team match in match out, in fair or foul weather, visibly and vociferously showing Malaysians that it is the colours of the national flag that matter more than the colour of the skin.
Maybe because of my involvement with FIFA in the earlier years as a media committee member, 2006 Germany World Cup media officer, and a FIFA Comm-Unity instructor, I did not see this subject as warranting debate. I was fortunate to be exposed to this 17 years ago.
Hamidin knew in 2018 when he took over, that, like all his predecessors, he would be judged not on his leadership qualities, or the lack of it, but mainly on the success of the national team. And he knows only too well that the only way he can win this battle, is by giving them results.
If we are turning to outside help, it must only mean that the local football administrators in the State FAs are sleeping on their jobs. For, if we had sound grassroots and youth development structures like we did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Malaysia wouldn’t be in dire need to naturalise foreign players.
So, let’s get our act together, kick the so-called state football administrators in their backsides, and start developing our young in a big way. For if we don’t, and if we are going to keep depending on foreign players, we will start looking like a United Nations XI.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.