US-born footballer Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal is arguably one of the biggest names in Malaysian football at the moment, despite never having played a minute of competitive football on Malaysian soil.
Since he was a teen aged trainee at Saint Louis FC, the midfielder, who was born in Carbondale, Illinois, to Malaysian parents had attracted interest from Malaysian football as a future Malaysia international.
His potential was certainly warranted. In 2014, he trained with Dutch club Feyenoord's youth team, before turning out in the 2016/17 U.S. Soccer Development Academy season, finishing it on the Central Conference Best XI.
In 2016 he joined Major League Soccer (MlS) side Sporting Kansas City's academy, before signing a professional contract with their farm team Swope Park Rangers (now known as Sporting Kansas City II) in 2017, to play in USL Championship, USA's second tier.
In the following year he made his first MLS appearances for Sporting, finishing it with six appearances in total and one goal, as well as playing for MLS' Homegrown Team in their annual MLS Homegrown Game.
Above all, his desire to progress, which he himself alluded to in an exclusive interview with Goal back in 2017, has garnered him the attention of Malaysian football fans, who want him to continue receiving his training and playing club football abroad.
But because he is also considered a US soccer prospect, Kuzain has remained coy on his commitment, refusing to express concrete commitment towards either national team, leaving the decision on his future for a much later time.
However, for a time, him joining Malaysia looked a real possibility. Towards the end of 2019, he was reported to be in Malaysia again, at a time when the Malaysia national team was undergoing their centralised camp in preparation for their World Cup qualifying matches against Thailand and Indonesia. An appearance in either of these two encounters would have locked his future to his parents' home country.
In the end, it turned out that he was only in Malaysia to try out for the U-23 national team, who were heading into the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in November, under head coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee.
At first everything seemed to be going well for the 21-year old, but towards the end of the training camp he hit a snag. A technical issue barred Kuzain from representing Malaysia, which is believed to have stemmed from the fact that the country does not allow its citizens to hold a dual-citizenship.
For him to represent Malaysia, he needed to relinquish his US passport, and that was a commitment that could not be taken by the player who prefers to leave his options open.
In the end, Wan Kuzain did not take the flight to the Philippines, while the Young Tigers would go on to undergo a disastrous outing in the competition.
He certainly did not come away from this episode with his reputation completely unscathed. In a country where loyalty and citizenship are viewed through a more conservative lens, his reluctance to commit to his parents' home country caused the fans to question his earnestness in wanting to represent Malaysia, and led them to accuse him wanting it only on his terms.
Furthermore, his progress in recent years does seem a little limited. To date, his MLS debut season remained his only one. He did not make any first team appearance in 2019, and although he featured regularly for Swope Park, they ended the year bottom of Eastern Conference in the USL.
It remains to be seen whether this criticism has any basis, but Kuzain has never stopped expressing his desire to don Malaysia colours.
Very recently, he reiterated this desire, but again in a non-committal fashion, in an interview with MLS.
“Definitely not a one-time thing,” Kuzan said of the call-up. “You never know with national team call-ups, it's on how you're playing, how your form is. Whenever they reach out, it's something definitely to look into.”
Coincidentally, his elder brother Wan Fayhsal Wan Kamal was last March appointed as Malaysia's Deputy Youth and Sports Minister, in a political development. Perhaps he can be tapped to wield his influence to persuade his brother to opt for Malaysia, once and for all.