One too many foreigners?

Tony Mariadass ponders if the influx of foreign players into the M-League in recent years has done more harm than good...

The question has been up in the air for some time now and even the FA of Malaysia (FAM) have been fickle about foreign players, having reversed their decision several times. However, this year, when the FAM decided to allow four foreign players – of whom one had to be Asian, compared with two last year – it was a clear indication that the national body were following the wishes of most state FAs and clubs.

The biggest concern about the recruitment of foreign players has been that the best local players are being deprived of playing in their own league. This in turn is affecting the national team because many of the local players hardly see action in the M-League. Teams normally hire strikers, midfielders and a centre-backs – the backbone of a team – thus preventing local players from getting enough exposure in the key positions.

It is worth noting that the national team performed better in the international arena in the years foreign players were shut out of the M-League. And the M-League proved exciting, contrary to the general belief that only the presence of foreign players does that to the league.

Just look at the top scorers in the M-League; it is the foreign players who head the list. What does this mean for the development of our local strikers? In fact, most of the states and clubs are only interested in winning silverware and will arm themselves with foreign players to supposedly strengthen their teams. But has this been the case?

When 37 new players were signed during the April transfer window, it underlined the poor selection that was made at the start of the season. Last season, only 20 new signings were made during transfer window because the teams were limited to just two foreign players. Will the 37 new signings change the fortunes of the teams or clubs? Only time will tell.

But the indications are that only a few will shine while the rest will not be much better than their predecessors. In fact, it will not be a surprise if the local players outshone some of the foreign players.

Now the question is, how much did the state FAs spend in the April transfer window and how much compensation did they have to pay for offloading the earlier signings? Perhaps, all that money could have been spent on the development of football in the country. Certainly, the state FAs and clubs will continue to say they spent their money wisely, but all will be revealed when their bank balance comes up for review at their annual general meeting.

What will be sad is if the foreign players who were dropped mid-season sue the state FAs and clubs for breach of contract or non-payment of their salaries. Several foreign coaches too suffered the same fate as the players.

The FAM previously said they had set strict guidelines for the states and clubs on hiring foreign players, but the number let go in April does not speak well of the selection method. Only Super League teams Pahang and PKNS, and Premier League sides Felda United, Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Police and Universiti Teknologi Mara were happy with their foreign signings and did not seek replacements. Felda and Kedah each added an import while UiTM signed two more to fill vacancies in their roster because they did not use the maximum quota at the start of the season.

Perak, on the other hand, changed their entire foreign signings in a desperate bid to stave off relegation from the Super League. Really, has serious thought been given to the idea of allowing foreign players to play in the M-League? Have all other avenues to improve the league been exhausted? Are we still looking for short cuts to success?

Now, we are going to privatise the M-League next year. Are we headed for more problems or are we going to brainstorm the matter and come up with workable ideas before going ahead with it? Is it going to be another cosmetic change that is not going to benefit the overall standard of football in Malaysia? Let us not forget that the decline in Malaysian football started when it turned semi-pro in the late 1980s – when we were not fully ready for it – and then went full professional soon after.

I am putting my money on the long-term National Development Football Programme (NDFP) for the betterment of the game in this country and nurturing local footballers for the future.