The perfectly imperfect life of a foreigner in Malaysia – Griffiths, Mulvey, Nakijima-Farran
It wasn't that long ago when foreign stars were banned plying their trade in the Malaysia Super League. That decision was thankfully reversed as a star from overseas makes a difference on and off the pitch.
Talk to any import in Malaysia and they love their time in the country. Most, if not all, speak of a beautiful place in which to earn a living from the beautiful game.
There is still constructive criticism, a few pet peeves, a few cultural hang ups that keep the foreigners on their toes, however, and perhaps could be used as the start of a debate that could make a difference for everyone.
“Any league you go to, you have to adapt no matter what position you play in, no matter what kind of player you are,” Penang's Australian centre-back Brent Griffiths told FourFourTwo.
“Some tackles I have seen here I think 'that must be a straight red', but no – this has blown me away. The referees could be stronger in stopping some very dangerous tackles.”
For Griffiths, this can handicap Malaysian players when they turn out for the national side. “ It's a 100 per cent disadvantage. You have to learn and adapt to different situations, especially young players who are looking to play in other leagues. They won't get away with as much there as they do here.”
We need to educate about nutrition, something that is still overlooked in football.
Kelantan defender Jon McKain agrees about the referees, admitting several decisions leave him scratching his head at times. But the Aussie would like to see more thought towards ensuring that players are as good as they can possibly be.
“In Australia, what you eat, how you sleep is very different to how the boys here do it. They could improve perhaps the way they prepare for games. Some players will go out to 2 to 3 in the morning, it is just part of the life here.
“It is good to go to bed early and eat healthily as this is what most players around the world do. I don't think that players here always see the relation between how changing things off the field can change things on it. I think that it why foreign coaches get frustrated sometimes.”
Mike Mulvey is one such foreign coach and while he is eager, like the others, to stress his love of the Malaysian game, the Englishman sees room for improvement.
“It is all about education,” said the Terengganu coach. “We need to educate about nutrition, something that is still overlooked in football. There should be a balance between rest and recovery. Sleep is very important. Everything helps: sleep, eating, recovery.
"It can definitely be improved in Malaysia. There is a good product here and great fans. We played JDT and then brought busloads of fans and it was fantastic. We are in the entertainment business and we want to win but we have an understand that we need to be as good as we can be.
"That is incumbent of every player. The game is getting quicker all the time and if you are not looking after yourself, you will get found out.”
The Fair Play rule...
Mulvey can also become frustrated at the fair play rule in Malaysia. It is striking how common it is for players to fall to the floor resulting in the opponents, usually attacking, then having to kick the ball out of play.
“It happens everywhere but especially here... players go down, stay down and then the ball gets kicked out of play. If someone is injured, that is fine but this is something that we can improve.
"I tell my players that if someone goes down with cramp, that is a fitness thing and we should play on and leave it up to the referee. In one game, someone had cramp, we counter-attacked and everyone was screaming for us to kick the ball out.”
In modern football, tactics are everything and Malaysia should be no different.
Terengganu's star attacker Issey Nakajima-Farran is another that thinks the fair play rule needs to be changed.
“It does my head in,” said the Canada international. “You are on a breakaway, then our players kick the ball out for fair play. Of course, it depends on the situation. A head injury is fine as is a twisted ankle, but we all know when players are faking.
"Maybe 85 per cent of the time, the player goes down in a certain way; maybe he lost the ball or was looking for a foul and didn't get it.
“In most leagues it will never be kicked out, in South America, never and that is why you have the referee to stop the game. You can assess the situation and that comes with experience. There is no need for the fair play moment as it is not fair play.
“It is all about winning games. We need to take that into consideration and need to be hungrier for the three points and not be so nice.”
The much-travelled Nakajima-Farran is a student of the game and argues that there is real room for improvement in this aspect. “I believe in modern football, tactics are everything and Malaysia should be no different,” he said.
“It is about studying other teams but especially studying yourself and improving ourselves with videos and that kind of thing.
“I am glad that in Terengganu we have Mike (Mulvey) in charge now as he stresses that aspect of the game. He has been in charge since last Tuesday and you will see changes in discipline and attacking.”
For Jon McKain too, this could be improved: “The big issue I have seen is the tactical understanding. Technically, Malaysian players are very good and many could easily play in the A-League technically. But in the second half they don't always stick to the system or do the job they are required to do.
"In between the 60th and 70th minute, the game opens up. This is great for the neutral but not ideal for the player as you want more control. A lot of games we played last year ended 0-0 but it could have been 6-0 either way. It was that open.”
None of the above means that imports don't count themselves lucky to be a professional player in Malaysia, as Nakajima-Farran concluded: “I enjoy playing here. I enjoy the atmosphere in the whole city where I am.
“Football is a big thing here and there is a respect for football which gets lost in other places. For that reason, I genuinely love playing here.”