BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
A number of footballers with part-Malaysian heritage have arrived on these shores in the past five years or so, but not many of them have made a significant impact in the M-League.
However, Scottish-born midfielder Stuart Wark has quietly but steadily gained his footing in the country, ever since leaving JDT II in the 2016 mid-season transfer window. He then played for Sabah in the Premier League for half a season, and in the 2017 pre-season signed with Super League runners up Felda United, who were then on the verge of making their first ever appearance in the AFC Cup.
He emerged as one of the Fighters' key players this season, having made a total 19 appearances in all competitions for them, starting in almost all of them except in one match.
However, Felda United's season has not been all rosy. A 1-0 home win against PKNS FC in their season opener provided a false start, and they then embarked on a six-match winless streak. Their head coach at the time, Azmi Mohamed, a pre-season appointment himself stepped down, and former Malaysia head coach Bhaskaran R Sathianathan was appointed as his replacement.
Sathianathan could not help Felda avoid a group stage exit in the continental competition, but in the league he guided them into the top half in the standings, having collected 13 points from eight matches.
The effect of Sathianathan's appointment is not lost on Wark, who credited the trainer for turning around their performance, and also his own, when met by Goal earlier this week.
"So far it has been good for me, I've learnt a lot. When I first came to Malaysia I was playing in a more attacking role, as a striker. But since coming to Felda, I've been playing as a defensive midfielder, doing quite well, enjoying it and learning a lot.
"My teammates have made the transition very easy for me, I have exprienced players beside me such as Fazly (defender Norfazly Alias) and (defender and skipper) Shukor Adan.
"The coach has done a great job and in helping me. Everyone is happy with him, and hopefully (from) the results of the last few games - we've won the last two, drawn a lot - things are looking a lot better.
"Hopefully we can continue to keep the performance up, get more points on board, maybe concentrate on getting a good run in the Malaysia Cup. Hopefully get in the final, we'll see how it goes" he explained.
Although the Fighters ended their debut AFC Cup campaign in the group stage, Wark has no doubt that Sathianathan would have taken them further, if he had led them from the beginning of the campaign. The first AFC Cup match Felda played under Sathianathan was their second group match; a 1-1 draw at home against Ha Noi FC.
"If he had had his own players to bring in, had been able to make the decisions from the start, I think yes, things would have been different.
"But it was not meant to be, so I think he's making the most of what he has, and now he can bring in some of his players," said Wark.
Asked about the Fighters' disappointing AFC Cup run, he pointed to two matches which dented their debut campaign; the afore-mentioned draw against Ha Noi and their goalless draw away to Philippines' Ceres Negros, in the following matchday.
"For me, I still don't understand how we failed to qualify (from the group stage). Against Ceres at home we dominated them from start to finish.
"But in the away game we missed a penalty in the final 10 minutes, and an open goal scoring chance in the last five. If we had put one of them away, that would have given us another three points.
"And against Ha Noi they scored a last-minute goal (equaliser). That's another three points we should have had.
"If we then had another draw, that should have been enough for us to qualify," he pointed out.
Earlier this year, Wark was rumoured to be on the radar of then Malaysia head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee, before the SEA Games-winning was then reassigned to Malaysia U22. We asked whether he thinks that a call up for his adopted country is still on the cards, and he answered that it is not his current focus.
"It's difficult. We know the structure (at the Malaysian FA) has changed, TMJ (new president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim) is now in charge.
"A lot of players from Johor have come out of retirement, so it's difficult. For me, anything is a bonus with the national team.
"I just want to play every week with Felda. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn't I'll keep enjoying my football, I'll keep working hard and I'll always be available," he explained.