BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
This year alone, Kedah starlet Akhyar Rashid has played for four separate teams and in three separate international competitions, as well as in friendlies and domestic club competitions.
The forward began 2018 by representing Malaysia U-23 in the AFC U-23 Championship finals, before helping the U-19 side capture the 2018 AFF U-19 Youth Championship title in July. And now, he is in the 2018 AFC U-19 Championship.
In between these tournaments, he also made regular and starring appearances in friendlies for the Malaysia senior team, as well as in domestic competitions for Kedah.
Akhyar playing for Malaysia in September. Photo from Getty
He is only 19, but the national teams are already dependent on him, due to what he is able to offer on the pitch.
Unlike most Malaysian forwards, Akhyar has raw technique, confidence and speed which allow him to run at and beat defenders, making him a rare commodity in the country. His inclusion on the team introduces unpredictability and an alternative to the more-straightforward passing or crossing game favoured by most Malaysian sides.
But this dependence has turned into overreliance, and it seems that Akhyar is already showing signs of accumulated fatigue.
In the AFF U-19 Championship, he missed the knockout stages after picking up an injury in the group stage.
A month later he appeared for Datuk Ong Kim Swee's Malaysia U-23 in the Asian Games, scoring in their opening match against Kyrgyzstan U-23. Since then, he has rarely played a full match for any of the national teams, either getting substituted off midway through the second half, or only brought on as a replacement.
Akhyar playing in 2018 Asian Games for Malaysia U-23. Photo from Getty
Most recently, Malaysia U-19 boss Bojan Hodak himself admitted that his young star is not fully fit, after they lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia U-19 in their first Group D AFC U-19 Championship match, during which Akhyar was only playing as a second half substitution.
Akhyar later admitted that he is carrying a knock in the match, one he had probably picked up while playing for the national team in their 1-0 friendly defeat to Kyrgyz Republic, just four days earlier.
A few days later, he again appeared as a second half introduction, in their 2-2 draw against Tajikistan.
It's safe to say that the boy is being over-exerted.
It's never good to push young players too much regardless how good they are, and the same applies to Akhyar too. While players his senior can afford a breather between club matches and international friendlies, Akhyar has probably been going from one centralised camp to another, playing in multiple tournaments, not to mention his club duties with Kedah.
It is understandable that Malaysia head coaches may want the best players in their squad, but they might risk damaging the development and career longevity of one of Malaysia's best current prospects by asking for too much from him too early.
Furthermore, he needs more time in individual training to develop his game, regardless of how talented he already is now. For example, despite his ability to get past defenders, he has shown difficulties in knowing when it is beneficial to release the ball to a teammate who is in a better position. More tellingly, in his many appearances for the national teams this year, he has only scored three goals, which is rather inadequate for an attacking-minded player.
It is unlikely that Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe will leave him out of his squad for the 2018 AFF Championship later this year, but perhaps Akhyar can be rested for their remaining friendly match; against Maldives on November 3.
And although he will no longer be eligible to play for the U-19 team next year, the Malaysian FA (FAM) needs to place him in only one roster, either the senior team or the U-23 squad. Playing as a full international will provide him with tougher challenges, but Kim Swee has the knack of bringing the best out his boys. However, it's perhaps better for him to spend 2019 with the U-23 team, as Kim Swee's team will play in the AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers, in the AFF U-22 Championship, as well as the SEA Games.
If he continues to be overemployed, he may hit his peak too early, burn out, and be out of call-up contention at the senior level altogether.
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