BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The call-up row involving Malaysia U22 and Malaysian clubs has once again resurfaced the club vs country debate in Malaysian football, after last week only six players showed up to the first day of Young Tigers head coach Dato' Ong Kim Swee's centralised training camp.
And the team that have garnered the most attention in the row is none other than the biggest contributors to Kim Swee's squad, Kedah, which refused to release the five players called up by Kim Swee, stating that quintet will only be allowed to join the camp later this week, due to the injuries to the team's more senior players.
Regardless of what many may think about the decision, one thing cannot be denied; following the shutting down of the Harimau Muda programme in 2015; Kedah have taken the burden of producing young talents the most seriously among Malaysian clubs, so much so that their young players are integral members of the 2016 Malaysia Cup and 2017 FA Cup champions.
When met by Goal following Kedah's 5-0 demolition of UiTM FC in their Malaysia Cup group match last Friday, the Red Eagles' Danish forward Ken Ilso Larsen praised his team's commitment to not only youth development, but also long-term targets.
"I think it's in the DNA of Kedah to have a lot of young players in the squad, and a couple of older ones where they can also bring in some experience.
"It does not matter who's not playing, we can have the young players take over," said the forward.
One of the reasons given by clubs that have refused to release their players to Kim Swee is the fact that the month of July sees clubs which compete in both the M-League and the Malaysia Cup playing in nine matches, which requires squad rotation.
But to him, the fixture congestion is not a problem to Kedah, as he understands that the domestic football season in the country is affected by many factors.
"I always understand that it's difficult to arrange everything when you have the one-month Aidilfitri break, but it is what it is.
"They had to pack a lot of games together and luckily we have a big squad that is capable. But of course there will be teams that will be vulnerable to fixture congestion.
"I think Kedah are ready for it, but in this case it is what it is," Larsen responded.
Larsen had no particular suggestion to make regarding the ongoing club vs country row when asked, but he pointed out the need for massive planning and investment to be undertaken in order to develop young players, drawing example from the current success of Germany where he played from 2010 to 2014, for Fortuna Düsseldorf and VfL Bochum.
"I just know if you want to produce very good youth teams and in the end the senior team, you need to invest a lot in the youth department.
"Take the example of Germany where I had played in. Around 12 or 14 years ago they decided they wanted to win the World Cup, and they started investing massively in young players.
"And just look today; they have just won the Confederations Cup with their 'C' team, with a lot of young U21 players. It takes a lot of investment and it takes time before you can reap the fruits," explained the 30-year old player.
And it is this aspect that Larsen finds lacking in Malaysia, where he has been playing in since the start of the 2017 season, when he joined Kedah.
"Some of the decisions made by Malaysian clubs are a little short-term, when they need to invest in the future.
"Just take the example of their foreign signings; they get changed either in the mid-season transfer window, or after just one season," he pointed out.
And according to Larsen, the fact that Kedah have been conducting their affairs with short-term targets is what initially attracted him to join them.
"One of the reasons that attracted me to Kedah in the beginning was at the time, they had foreign players who have been playing for a couple of years for them; such as Sandro (da Silva) and Liridon (Krasniqi).
"That showed progress in the way that I like football and the team's surroundings," continued the Dane.
In the match against UiTM, Kedah's decision to delay their Malaysia U22 quintet's release was made apparent.
Forward Syafiq Ahmad opened the scoring as early as the third minute and made an assist later in the game, while goalkeeper Ifwat Akmal Che Kassim stopped numerous open goal-scoring opportunities had by the university side; who were a lot more dangerous in the match than what may be suggested by the one-sided final scoreline.
Larsen himself scored the Red Eagles' third goal of the match, in the 80th minute.