Malaysians Abroad: The Harimau Muda starlets who ventured out but never really took off
Nazmi Faiz Mansor
Announcing himself to the country as a 17-year-old at the 2011 SEA Games, where the Malaysians defended their gold medal, Nazmi Faiz Mansor has come a long way despite still being only 22.
The central-midfielder has an eye for defence-splitting passes but his physique often weighs against him. He has got more physical these days and can now last 90 minutes after going down with muscle cramps multiple times during his Harimau Muda career.
Nazmi shipped off to Europe after impressing Beira Mar in May 2012, but the move barely lasted six months as the club fell into a financial meltdown, forcing Nazmi into a shock return to Malaysia after PKNS agreed a transfer with the Portuguese side.
In an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo, Nazmi regretted his return but insisted he was left with no option after being forced to live off a teammate for a couple of months after Beira Mar failed to pay his wages three month into his move.
Nazmi moved to Selangor in April 2014, winning the Malaysia Cup the following year, and is expected to make a move to Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) next season. He has already made his international debut but has yet to consistently cement a place in the Tigers squad.
Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor
This former Harimau Muda winger, once the jewel of the Malaysia under-23 side, moved to Japanese third division side FC Ryukyu in 2013 – his second foreign stint – and featured regularly before injury influence his return to Kelantan in 2014.
Wan Zack’s three-month loan spell at Slovakian club FC Vion Zlate Moravce in 2011 was also hampered by injury as he failed to play a single competitive match for them.
Wan Zack’s return to Kelantan courted controversy as the move irked then Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee and Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) general-secretary Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad as the speedster was sent to Japan as part of efforts to expose Malaysian youngsters.
Ryukyu were willing to facilitate Wan Zack’s knee injury rehabilitation but the youngster was homesick and relented to a big-money move to the Malaysia Super League (MSL).
His injury is long behind him now, but Wan Zack is struggling to live up to his potential and has twice been dropped by the national team this year.
Nazirul Naim Che Hashim
The left-back’s move to Japan in 2013 came as a surprise after FC Ryukyu initially came to Malaysia to take a look at winger Wan Zaharulnizam Zakaria and Wan Zack.
The Japanese club felt Nazirul had a better chance of playing as the club were short of options in the position compared to the wings. Nazirul’s stint, however, was hampered by injury as he failed to make a single appearance and return to Harimau Muda the following year.
The 23-year-old joined Perak at the start of this season and has worked his way into the national team, where is he currently back-up for JDT’s Fazly Mazlan.
Irfan Fazail & Fadhli Shas
Former Harimau Muda starlets Irfan and Fadhli have had mixed fortunes since their Slovakian stint in 2011.
The duo signed a three-month loan deal with Vion Zlate Moravce in September 2011 after impressing the club during Harimau Muda’s European stint, but only made three appearances between themselves and returned home for good shortly after the 2011 SEA Games.
Fadhli Shas cemented a starting place in the Tigers squad the following year and has gone on to record over 50 appearances. However, he is currently struggling to find form due to a lack of appearances at JDT.
Irfan, a former Malaysia under-23 skipper, has not had luck with his career progression due to injuries. He made his long-awaited international debut against Indonesia in September but is struggling to live up to the hype that surrounded him during his youth days.
In a recent interview with FourFourTwo, the JDT II midfielder conceded he was nowhere close to emulating midfield maestro Safiq Rahim but vowed to live up to his potential.
Ahmad Fakri Saarani
Fakri was handed his break at Perak by Steve Darby in 2007 and there was no turning back – at that point at least. Then three months prior to his 18th birthday, Fakri bagged a hat-trick on his debut against Negeri Sembilan before being enlisted in the Harimau Muda programme.
Fakri was shortlisted for the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup but dropped out due to injury during the Asian Games. He was later part of the 2011 SEA Games winning squad, scoring the winner against Myanmar in the last-four.
Fakri, who also had a stint in Perlis, announced he had agreed a move to Portuguese third division side Atletico S.C starting January 2013. There were contrasting reports on the duration of his contract as it varied from six months to a year.
The forward, however, barely lasted four months and signed for MSL side Kelantan, claiming his contract in Portugal had ended.
Now 27, Fakri moved to Felda United in April. He is still part of the national team but has failed to cement a regular starting spot and is only expected to play a bit-part role at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.