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Southeast Asian Regrets: Local football legends that didn't move abroad

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Another ASEAN legend who did not move west was Piyapong Pue-on, the great striker that still has Thailand fans going all misty-eyed today.

The forward actually went to South Korea in 1984 to shoot Lucky Goldstar to the K-League title, a rare example of a Southeast Asian heading east to great success.

Of course I regret it. I think that if I had made the first move then others would have gone

- Zainal

He is still well remembered in Seoul. In 2010, Piyapong and his son were guests of honour at a South Korean national team game, with local fans and journalists alike desperate for a photo and a comment.

Piyapong told this writer that he had the chance to go to Europe – with Anderlecht especially interested – after his Korean exploits, but decided against it and went to Malaysia instead, where he would score loads of goals for Pahang.

“I wanted to help Southeast Asian football,” he said.

At the time, Zainal Abidin Hassan had just left that club and the Malaysian superstar told FourFourTwo recently he also had a chance to move west, this time to Saudi giants Al Nassr, but did not leave.

Sathianathan (left) has no doubt Mokhtar would have excelled in England

“There was no encouragement to go. It was different then and more difficult. Of course I regret it. I think that if I had made the first move then others would have gone.

"I could have been the first one. Today, still nobody (from Malaysia) has proven themselves overseas.

“We used to beat Korea and Japan and were better than them, but now they send players to Europe and we do not.”

That is certainly true but some still try. In 2016, young Indonesian star Evan Dimas had a four-month training stint with Espanyol B in Spain but did not get a contract.

The same was true for Indonesian compatriot Andik Vermansyah who was recommended to DC United by David Beckham after the two faced each other in a Jakarta friendly, but the trial at the MLS club again came to naught.

Just this year, Hariss Harun, Singapore captain and one of the region's top midfielders, suddenly announced he was leaving Malaysian powerhouse Johor Darul Ta'zim to join Spanish side L'Hospitalet on loan.

Just two weeks after he arrived in Europe, however, the move was cancelled, reportedly due to taxation issues.

Promising Vietnamese left-back Vu Van Thanh was not allowed to join Serbia's FC Vojvodina as he has been told to focus on winning the SEA Games in August.

There are other close-run examples, but football would not be football without transfer sagas that did not quite have the ending fans and players wanted. Southeast Asia is no exception.