SEA Games: The sole breadwinner hoping to earn gold both on and off the pitch

N. Thanabalan is earning praises after starring in Malaysia’s recent successful 2018 AFC Under-23 Championship qualification campaign. But he has swiftly turned his attention to the SEA Games and a better salary package.

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Used effectively on the right of a three-man attack in Bangkok, Thanabalan’s career could be on the upswing if he maintains his form.

Having once been among the five Malaysian youngsters shortlisted for the regional Nike The Chance’s training-stint at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy in 2012, Thanabalan’s world came crashing down the following year when his father was paralysed from the chest down after an accident.

He still has a mother and two sister to support after his father's demise

He became the sole breadwinner of the family and while that has been tough, Thanabalan has taken it on his chin and pushed himself harder.

Understandably, he told FourFourTwo that among his goals was getting a good salary package in the future.

The former SSTMI sports school product could not climb up the ranks in Negeri Sembilan and moved to third-tier Felcra this year in search of regular playing time and a better deal.

That only made his chances for the SEA Games tougher because of the difference in standards but Thanabalan was undeterred.

To play for his country is an honour, he says

“Going from the FAM League to the international stage has been a big ask because the levels are very different. I have been pushing myself harder when I’m with my club and when I come here, I strive to up the ante for Malaysia under-22,” he shared with FourFourTwo.

“Ultimately I want to be a good footballer, have a lengthy career and earn a good salary so I could take care of my family. That’s my biggest motivation.”

I will fight my way to the national team. I must thank Ong Kim Swee for putting trust in me to start matches at the qualifiers

Luckily for him, he has been doing fine at domestic and international level. This bodes well for his future, especially since he still has a mother and two siblings to support.

“I still have time on my side and I will work my way higher up the leagues. I’m very glad we made the 2018 AFC Under-23 competition because that’s my biggest achievement so far,” he added.

“I will fight my way to the national team. I must thank Ong Kim Swee for putting trust in me to start matches at the qualifiers.”

‘AFC is bigger but we want SEA Games gold too’

The August’s Games in Kuala Lumpur has attracted widespread attention across Malaysia and plenty – including the government – are hoping Ong Kim Swee’s squad deliver what is often described as the mother of all gold medals.

In fact more importance was attached to the regional Games than the recently-ended AFC Under-23 qualifiers.

Thanabalan recently had a starring role for Malaysia

Even Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership and Football Association of Malaysia agreed to reschedule domestic matches for the Games but did not do so for the qualifiers.

Yet Thanabalan felt that priorities could not have been more skewed.

“The AFC qualifiers and getting to next year’s main tournament is so much bigger than the Games. First we need to consistently make the Asian-level competitions and if we can keep improving, then we can think of bigger things like the World Cup and Olympics,” he said.

Angling for gold on and off the pitch is Thanabalan's aim

Thanabalan, however, insisted the squad will not get carried away and disregard the Games as they are eager to taste the gold medal like the 2009 and 2011 squads.

He admitted Thailand, who Malaysia lost 3-0 to on July 21, will start as favourites but hoped the home support and determination will carry them through.

“The Games will be tough … Thailand are favourites but we have more time to prepare and will grow in strength from here.

“Surely we want the gold medal, especially in Kuala Lumpur and it would be great feeling to bring cheer to Malaysian football. We must be at our best to come out tops against the likes of Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam.”