Why Brazilian influence could be the secret ingredient for the revival of Malaysian football

Qualification to the 1972 and 1980 Olympic Games undoubtedly remains the supreme moment in the nation's history, and now South Americans could be helping them take the next step
By Keeshaanan Sundaresan

The recent South-East Asian Games triumph has been the talk of Malaysia all week long, with many claiming that it is time for a revival of football in the nation.

Efforts are already being made to take Malaysia to the next level, with a stint in Slovakia for their Under-23 team being a fitting example. The side's recent triumphs in South-East Asia are proof that there is some improvement. But with that, it is definitely time for the Malayan Tigers to be a little more ambitious.

The infrastructure is certainly present. The passion is unquestionable, with the Ultras Malaya being very visible evidence. The level of talent is indubitable considering the fact that Brazilian club Cruzeiro are already monitoring the progress of several Malaysian teenage prodigies. Perhaps all the football-mad nation needs is a simple 'Midas touch' that would turn everything to gold. This is where Brazilian influence comes into the picture.

History reveals that the rise of Asian football powerhouses, in the form of Japan and Saudi Arabia, is both directly and indirectly indebted towards Brazil. The 1989 Under-16 World Cup victory for Saudi Arabia speaks for the volume of Samba influence within the Middle East nation because, under the perfect guidance of Ivo Ardais Wortmann, the young Falcons proved to be a tough nut to crack as they lifted the trophy in style. That victory marked a new generation of players who began to dream about the Fifa World Cup. True enough, Saudi Arabia qualified for the global tournament five years later in 1994.

Perhaps all the football-mad nation needs is a simple 'Midas touch' that would turn everything to gold. This is where Brazilian influence comes into the picture

Carlos Alberto Parreira is another icon who helped to revolutionise football in the Middle East. Taking charge of Kuwait in 1978, the legendary coach led them to their first-ever World Cup in 1982, within a short span of four years. Facilities, infrastructure and technology were definitely out of the equation but pure passion and some added Brazilian flavour brought credibility to football in the region.

In his early days, Chinese footballer Li Tie was part of an exchange programme under the sponsorship of the Jianlibao Youth team, who were sent to Brazil for a five-year stint in 1992. Ten years later, the dynamic defensive midfielder led China into their first-ever World Cup campaign in 2002. The effects of that stint in Brazil benefited him greatly as he was then signed by English Premier League side Everton in the same year, becoming part of their first team.

Japanese football also remains indebted to Brazil or, more specifically, Zico. Kashima Antlers, who are now one of the most successful clubs in the country, were established as a Japanese footballing powerhouse largely due to the influence of the ex-international, who plied his trade there during the early 1990s. Zico aside, Brazilian influence in Japan flows on with the likes of Dunga, Careca, Hulk, Leonardo and many more. Japan’s position as an Asian heavyweight is surely due in no small part to the legacy of its South American participants - a legacy that has propelled the East Asian nation to greater heights.

Japanese football also remains indebted to Brazil. Kashima Antlers, now one of the most successful clubs in the country, were established as a powerhouse largely due to the influence of Zico

More recently, Iraq have been dining at the top table despite still being embroiled in political chaos. Jorvan Vieira led them to their maiden Asian Cup triumph in 2007 despite facing plenty of issues and, four years on from that glorious moment, the Iraqis are closing in on a second World Cup qualification, with that man Zico at the helm. Interestingly, their first World Cup qualification, in 1986, was also influenced by a Brazilian, Evaristo de Macedo.

All this suggests the possibility of witnessing similar achievements in Malaysia, and these are only some of the historical examples.

Would Brazilian influence succeed in Malaysia? Statistics suggest so. Toni Netto, who coached Perak FA from 2002 to 2005, lifted four trophies with them and until today remains the most successful manager in the Seladangs' history. Another significant Brazilian in Malaysian football is Marcos Tavares, who helped Kedah FA win the Super League title in 2005 with 25 goals under his belt, finishing the season as the team’s top scorer.

Jaino Matos, Cruzeiro’s official representative in Malaysia, reiterated in a recent interview that there have been plans outlined to bring the Brazilian touch to the Malayan Tigers’ spirit. Facts and figures have also been clearly laid out. Maybe all that needs to be done now is just to carry out the action.

Slovakia, Cardiff City and Europe will definitely contribute to the rising status of Malaysian football, but where else can we find a better place to learn the tools of the trade other than the home of samba football, Brazil?

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