FAM Cup: Where forgotten heroes hope to rise again
They were once worshipped and adored by fans and were the stars of the Malaysian team.
They represented the best teams in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and won top honours with their clubs.
However, some have passed their prime while others were dropped by their top-tier clubs due to injuries.
Instead of retiring quietly and becoming local football pundits, like most do, some former greats are now plying their trade in the FAM Cup, a third-tier semi-professional competition, where they hope to resurrect their fading careers.
These players once played in front of packed stadiums but today, the unglamorous teams they play for hardly attracts 200 fans for each match.
Khyril Muhymeen Zambri was part of Kedah’s Super League, Malaysia Cup and FA Cup triumphs in 2007 and 2008, and was also a member of the national team that won the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup under coach K. Rajagobal.
He is one of 14 former internationals who are playing for third-tier clubs this season.
After spending 10 seasons with Kedah, Khyril tried his luck with Negri Sembilan in 2015 but it turned out to be a poor season of mediocre performances and injuries, and understandably, he was released by the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) side.
Malaysian fans were taken by surprise when the 29-year-old had signed with FAM Cup club AirAsia All-Stars FC for one year in February after an unsuccessful trial with Selangor, who felt the midfielder-cum-striker would be a liability as he was still down with a hamstring injury.
“I was still injured and Selangor felt it would be better to invest on another player. I have taken a huge risk by signing with a third-tier club as I may just become a forgotten name in Malaysian football and probably never make a return to the MSL or MPL,” said Khyril.
“AirAsia signed me despite my injury and I owe it to them for giving me a second chance. The FAM Cup may be unglamorous to some but the fact is the competition in growing in popularity and many teams are now investing on quality players.”
There were doubts that Khyril would ever kick the ball again as he missed the opening five rounds of the competition.
However, the Alor Setar-born made an immediate impact on his debut as a second-half substitute for AirAsia on April 20 by scoring a brace in the 3-0 win over Ipoh FC in Manjong Mini Stadium. He is now hungry for more action with his new club.
His teammate, Syamsuri Mustafa was the former national No 1 goalkeeper, who played for Malaysia from 2001 to 2009.
The 35-year-old is best remembered for scoring a goal for Malaysia with a dropkick from his own penalty box in the 4-3 defeat to Vietnam in the 2003 Southeast Asian Games.
Despite his advancing age, Syamsuri, who is playing in his second season in the FAM Cup, is still keen to return to the MSL or MPL one day.
“Goalkeepers normally reach their peak in their 30s. My idol, Gianluigi Buffon, is 38 and he is still going strong for Italy and Juventus, and I hope to emulate him.
“I quit the game in 2013 but returned last year. Every player in the FAM Cup dreams of playing top flight football but it is not easy as our games do not attract scouts from big teams,” said Syamsuri.
Felcra FC have the most number of ex-internationals this season and understandably, they have set an ambitious target of earning promotion to the MPL.
Former Selangor striker Fadzli Shaari, who played for third-tier German side SV Wehen in 2001, was part of Malaysia’s 2007 Asian Cup squad.
He along with former internationals Aziz Mat Rose, Azi Shahril Azmi, Shahrizal Saad and Shahrulnizam Mustapa, who all played either for MSL or MPL sides in 2015, are among those representing Felcra.
Former national captain K. Nanthakumar and Yosri Derma Raju are the marquee players for Malaysia Indian Sports Council-Malaysia Indian Football Association while the lanky G. Mahathevan, who has three international caps, plays for Megah Murni.
The other ex-internationals in the FAM Cup are Ministry of Finance’s (MOF) K. Solehin, Nizad Ayub and Rudie Ramli while Redzuan Radzy is representing Kadazan Dusun Murut Malaysia Football Club.
The FAM Cup was established in 1952 as a secondary knockout tournament to the prestigious Malaya Cup but starting 1974, state teams were barred and only clubs were allowed to participate in it.
It became a third-tier competition after the semi-professional league was introduced in 1989, and since then, it has been a breeding ground for future stars.
The sudden influx of ex-internationals of late may have added some glamour but some teams feel their presence defeats the purpose of the league in grooming talents.
The top players in the FAM Cup earn more than RM15,000 a month while others are paid less than RM3,000.