When Malaysia got absolutely ripped apart by Indonesia in the opening game of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, Datuk K. Rajagobal and his men were absolutely slated by the media and fans across the country. It was almost as if he was being subjected to abuse from a damaged vinyl record player – it was painful, but devastating at the same time.
However, the man himself kept his cool and rallied his players to stay focused on their next game. It took a lot of composure in dealing with the pressure that he was facing at that point. But it also took confidence – which largely stemmed from the fact that he knew he had a lethal weapon upfront, in the form of Safee Sali. Safee went on to score five goals and won the Golden Boot as Malaysia bounced back in style to win the entire competition.
This year, with Suzuki Cup set to get underway in less than a month, Malaysia’s Datuk Ong Kim Swee is still facing a minor limbo. He has lost key players in the form of Safiq Rahim and Aidil Zafuan to international retirement, and he doesn’t have a prolific goal scorer to make things tick upfront. Safee is no longer the player he used to be, Norshahrul is constantly going on a roller-coaster ride, with regards to his form, while other local strikers have simply not looked up to the task, at all.
But it’s a unique problem to have, because there are already tangible suggestions on the table. OKS could opt for youth and go gung ho. Alternatively, he could play the wildcard and give Darren Lok a run-out in the team. He is a surprise package no? Last week, we listed four options on Twitter and posed the question to YOU. The response we received was intriguing, to say the least.
So, we decided to break each solution down and discuss which could potentially benefit OKS and his troops the most.
NO STRIKER – FALSE NINE
The good thing about false-nine is that Malaysia has got the ideal play for this role – Amri Yahya. His constant desire to drop deep means that he can function as an attacking midfielder, and help bring wingers like Hadin Azman and Hazwan Bakri into the game. Amri has a knack of scoring crucial goals and functions best when he has space. But he’s not prolific, so this idea will heavily depend on contribution from the wingers, depending on who gets a ticket into the squad. We know the likes of Hadin, Hazwan Bakri and even PDRM’s Fakhrul Aiman Sidid can score goals on their day, but the AFF Suzuki Cup is a different ball game, altogether. The pressure will be significant, and the margin for error is incredibly small. Utilizing a false-nine approach – be it directly or indirectly – also requires wingers to press a lot higher up the pitch, meaning Malaysia’s full-backs would have to be a lot more disciplined than usual Can they pull it off?
YOUNGSTERS – S. KUMAAHRAN & CO.
The lack of prolific local strikers is partially down to the amount of top-class exposure, they are more often than not, afforded with. So while doing well in the Suzuki Cup is a must, OKS could also take a gamble and prioritize the bigger picture by including the likes of S. Kumaahran or even Kedah’s Syafiq Ahmad in the squad. Kumaahran has been a regular fixture for Penang FA this year and has scored a decent amount of goals for a lad of his age. Syafiq has also done well for himself, and even bagged a brace in Malaysia U23’s win over Brunei last month. What they will and can do, is provide raw enthusiasm and the sort of fearless approach that’s visibly lacking in Malaysia’s squad. And as much as their lack of experience is a cause for concern, some would argue that the experience gathered from competing at the Suzuki Cup would only shape them into better players in the long-run. Question is, do we go short-term or long-term at this juncture?
VETERANS – NORSHAHRUL & CO
If only we could press a ‘revive’ button and bring back the Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan of 2010! We almost ran out of superlatives to describe the impact they made in Malaysia’s stunning comeback campaign, but the unfortunate truth is that we longer have the best of them anymore. What we do have, is tonnes of experience. Norshahrul has been a part of the national set-up since 2007, and has played in the last three Suzuki Cup finals. You can never put a price or value on experience like that. When the pressure amplifies, when the atmosphere intensifies, you want level-headed folks on the pitch. Norshahrul gives you exactly that. Ability-wise, there are certainly question marks. He’s barely scored for Terengganu this year; in case you’ve not noticed. And TV producers aren’t exactly scrambling for highlights of his recent performances for Malaysia, either. But remember, Malaysia’s run to the 2014 Suzuki Cup final was primarily fueled by old guns like Indra Putra and Shukor Adan.
WILDCARD – DARREN LOK
Think about it. Would you ever imagine Joachim Loew handing a national call-up to a player that has only played one competitive game for his club? It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Hence, it was understandable when fans took to Twitter to question Ong’s decision to hand Darren Lok a call-up, barely a week after his Malaysian passport was approved. But here’s why the circumstances are different, in Darren Lok’s case. The former Eastbourne Borough FC striker had been training with JDT II since June, and the feedback from JDT’s coaching set-up was reportedly positive – which prompted OKS to jump at the opportunity of evaluating him. Now of course, he barely made an impact against Singapore. But the word on the street is that Darren did enough during training session to catch the eye of OKS. The real dilemma here isn’t about talent. It’s about experience, it’s about dealing with pressure, it’s about adapting to Southeast Asian football. It’ll be tricky, no doubt. But on the other hand, Darren could end up being a complete surprise package. At this juncture, it probably doesn’t matter if he’s good or bad because his wildcard factor could be the tonic boost Malaysia desperately need, upfront.