Making the country proud: Ferns shows courage, Shahrel proves Malaysian development can work

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Curran Ferns and Shahrel Fikri are not the first Malaysians to play abroad, but the circumstances behind their moves show that there is hope.


BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter


Over the past month, two Malaysian footballers have decided to brave the unknown and signed up to play overseas in Thailand's Thai League 1. Australian-born midfielder Curran Ferns signed for Sukhothai FC from Felda United in early June, while PKNP FC forward and captain Shahrel Fikri Fauzi followed him early this week, joining Nakhon Ratchasima on a loan deal.

They are not the first Malaysian footballers to venture abroad. Earlier in the season, Spanish-born midfielder Kiko Insa joined Bangkok Glass, although his stay did not last long and he has since returned to Malaysia. Former Malaysia striker Safee Sali meanwhile had a two-year stint in Indonesia, at Pelita Jaya and Arema Cronus.

But Shahrel and Ferns' moves have definitely made the Malaysian football fraternity even prouder, when the circumstances behind their transfers are looked at.

First of all, the two players' wages in Thailand are not likely to be as good as what they used to receive in Malaysia, and this speaks of their desire and hunger to succeed beyond monetary gains. The fact that they are playing in Southeast Asia's best league will also do wonders to the progress of their careers.

But in Ferns' case, it is his objective for moving abroad that has captured our admiration.

In an interview with Stadium Astro, the 24-year old said that his move is fuelled by his desire to earn a spot in the Malaysia national team, ahead of the 2018 AFF Championship at the end of this year.

Curran Ferns, Sukhothai FC

Photo from Sukhothai FC

We don't often get to see this level of desire in Malaysian football, the kind of drive that pushes a player into taking up a seemingly less-lucrative and glamorous offer at a smaller club, in the hopes that it will pay off in more playing time and a bigger starring role.

One of the most recent examples of this was when veteran Australian forward Tim Cahill rejoined his former club Milwall FC in the English Championship back in February this year, in order to keep himself in the contention for the Socceroos' World Cup squad. The 38-year old star's decision paid off handsomely, when he was later listed in the 23-man tournament roster by head coach Bert van Marwijk.

Despite having played in Malaysia since 2016, Ferns has not really been knocking on the door of the national team, but his transfer gamble will surely put him in the pool. Even if this does not end in a national team call-up, the former Brisbane City youth player can still count on developing himself further, as a footballer playing in the best league in the region.

Whereas for Shahrel, the latest development in his career has not really been a surprise, when you really think about it. After all, he has done nothing but impress everyone, overcoming personal obstacles and contributing to the Perak-based club side's rise from the third tier all the way to the Super League promotion this year, while picking up caps for the Harimau Malaya.

Shahrel Fikri, PKNP FC

Shahrel signing for Nakhon Ratchasima. Photo from PKNP FC

But unlike Ferns who trained as a youth player in Australia and only arrived on our shores as a senior player, Shahrel is a product of the oft-criticised and much-maligned system that is the Malaysian football development.

This evidently shows that although there is much that is lacking in Malaysian football, it still has potential to produce quality footballers, if our young boys are given enough chance.

Credit must be given to PKNP head coach Abu Bakar Fadzim, who succeeded in assembling a competitive top-tier side that is not reliant on foreign players. That is one of the major lessons that Malaysian clubs should take away from the 23-year old's move. And as if Abu Bakar has not done enough, he even made a sacrifice in letting his golden boy leave; presently the club are in the FA Cup semi-finals, and are finishing their league campaign. But who knows, maybe a PKNP cup win will seal his reputation as one of the best trainers in the country at the moment.

Abu Bakar Fadzim, PKNP FC

Abu Bakar Fadzim. Photo from Football Malaysia LLP

Coincidentally, Nakhon Ratchasima and Sukhothai will face off in a league match this Saturday, with Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe telling Stadium Astro that one of his coaching staff members may travel to the Thung Thalay Luang Stadium to observe Shahrel and Ferns in action.

Hopefully the two will shine, not just in the encounter, but also in the remainder of the Thai football season, and prove to other Malaysian footballers that venturing abroad is a gamble that must be taken in order to grow their potential.

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