Gary Steven Robbat, a real-life comic book character
Once upon a time, comics and magazines were the source of much of the information gleaned by any young lad interested in football. 40 years before Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and their instant opinions had been even thought of – or a full twenty years even before the internet was commonplace – Shoot had an impact on me as a schoolboy in the UK. In fact, I have been told that it did the same on football fans in Southeast Asia, too.
Whilst Shoot was the more serious football almanac, football comics such as Roy of the Rovers or Tiger and Scorcher were there to cater for the fantasy side of the game. They had the kind of comic book script that enabled Roy Race to captain England, play alongside Malcolm MacDonald, Kevin Keegan and Trevor Francis, and beat the Netherlands 5-1. It was fantasy, make-believe stuff. There was also a comic book called Stark: Matchwinner for Hire.
It told the tale of a mercenary player who would sign for clubs on a one-match basis and charge per goal with a ‘no win, no fee’ clause. Of course, that was all fantasy and not at all close to reality. There is no way you can sign or play for multiple clubs in a season… or, can you?
When the new Malaysian Super League season kicks off on January 31st with the clash between Pahang and Johor Darul Ta’zim, Gary Steven Robbat could have a problem. You see, the young midfielder has been claimed by both teams as their player. Both 2014 Malaysia Cup finalists have evidence that Gary has signed for them, and that’s not all.
As well as preparing himself for the Malaysian Super League, he should also be jetting off to Alor Setar to join Kedah as they begin their Malaysian Premier League campaign. Why? Because Kedah also have a claim to the muscular midfielder, as he left his home state to go into the Harimau Muda set-up and, by FAM’s ruling, he should return there should he leave the Harimau Muda.
One player, three teams, and all claiming about “owning” his services. Gary is no Stark in terms of scoring goals, and the idea of ‘no win, no fee’ is not on the table, but he has effectively become a footballer for hire.
Gary is a fine footballer. An established Malaysia international at the age of 22 and a clear leader on the pitch, he seems to have a long career in the game ahead of him. With the old guard of the Malaysian national team set to make way for the next generation, Gary is expected to be one of the leading lights of Malaysia’s national fortunes going forward.
His ability isn’t doubted. After attending the Bukit Jalil Sports School, he established himself as a key central midfielder in the Harimau Muda sides that competed successfully in Singapore’s S-League and Australia’s State Leagues. When the team went on a four-month training stint in Slovakia, he impressed the coaches of Slovakian side Zlate Moravcek enough for them to offer him a trial.
Gary also earned praise from Arsene Wenger after a friendly match against Arsenal at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. In the recent AFF Suzuki Cup, despite getting a red card in the opening match against Myanmar, he remained an important squad member of the team that surpassed expectations. So, it is disappointing to see him getting tangled in the transfer fiasco.
No doubt a solution will soon be found between the teams involved in the dispute, but the practice of compromising has been one of the more difficult things for me as a foreign guest to cope with in trying to assimilate into the country – “the Malaysian way” is how it is patiently explained to me time and time again.
This is not the first time that there has been some “confusion” over player contracts. Off the top of my head, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Nurul Azwan Roya, Amirulhadi Zainal and Nor Farhan Muhammad were four of the biggest names in recent years to have signed for one team but then appeared for a completely different team. Those examples bring to light the need for a more professional approach by players in their dealings with contracts and with teams. If Gary had been represented by a FIFA licensed agent or a recognised manager, this kind of “confusion” could have been avoided. More importantly, we could avoid those negative headlines from taking attention away from many of the good things surrounding Malaysian football.
Local football is going through a period of growth. Over the last five years, crowds have grown, TV companies are competing to showcase the entertaining league, most clubs are adopting a professional playing attitude, money is being invested in players and the suspicions of match-fixing at the top level are lower than they have ever been. After 20 years in the doldrums, Malaysian football is being taken seriously again.
There are enough critics out there ready to latch on to any evidence that Malaysian football isn’t improving, so one of the last things Malaysian football needs is one of its star players and three of its most prominent clubs being embroiled in a giant transfer saga. While those with the best interests of Malaysian football at heart want to create new heroes, we want them to be heroes for what they do on the field, not because they bring some of us stark reminders of a 40-year-old comic book fantasy.
(Main photo credit: asiana.my)