PERHAPS to the frowns of local players but to the excitement of fans, the foreign legion are returning to the 2002 M-League. The presence of these international soldiers of fortune of the game will mean fewer places in Premier One and Premier Two for local players. After an absence of three years, the FA of Malaysia are reopening the doors of the M-League to foreign players in order to inject more excitement into the league. After three seasons of all local players in the league. we will get to judge whether the return of the foreign players will make a difference, at least in gate attendance. if not in standards. In recent years, teams have complained of poor gates as few fans showed up at the stadiums to watch fellow Malaysians play. Generally, the return of foreign players is seen as a timely injection into the league to rekindle interest, and hopefully improve the standards of the game and fill the stands. But one cannot deny that the absence of foreign players has given local players more opportunities to make their mark. And the success of the national Under-23 squad in reaching the SEA Games final last year is ample proof that talents have surfaced over the last three years. Significantly, not all teams are rushing into hiring foreign players and some, determined to prove a thing or two, will stick to an all local cast season this time. This will enable FAM, and fans to see for themselves what influence the foreign players have on Malaysian soccer. After the Semi-Pro league was introduced in 1989 and it went fully professional in 1996, this is a significant year for the game as we will see which direction it is headed. The inclusion of foreign players will deny at least two local players each team a first XI spot if every outfit are to fill up their foreign quota. At an average of one foreign player per team, at least 24 local players are going to be denied action in the Premier I and II League. If this pushes back Malaysian soccer, one wonders how much it would dilute the pool of the national team. But at the same time, another school of thought is that the participation of of foreign players will help Malaysian soccer rise. In retrospect, from 1989 to 1998, 453 foreign players graced the M- League. How much has it helped Malaysian soccer? A breakdown of foreign players who have played in Malaysia is as follows: 1989 (34); 1990 (45); 1991 (45); 1992 (48); 1993 (48); 1994 (48); 1995 (47); 1996 (32); 1997 (55) and 1998 (51). Granted that, this time FAM have introduced stringent measures that only quality foreign players are hired, but still, the move to bring them back is debatable. Is it the crowds in the stands that we are interested in, or the development of the game in the country? If the State FAs only use the money they spend on foreign players on soccer development, the benefits will certainly be far larger and permanent. Everything points to the teams being more interested in trophies than Malaysian soccer. Penang, one of the States who have decided to stay fully local, should be applauded for their stand. And if they can achieve results against the foreign players powered teams, they will have proved a point. The other interesting factor will be the performance of club teams, especially Johor FC, who won Premier II last season, and Negri Sembilan Chempaka I - as they make their Premier I debut. A lot has been said about club soccer, but more often than not, it is in a negative manner, despite the achievements of teams like Johor FC. For reasons best known to the State FAs, there have been moves to deny clubs the opportunity to play at the highest level. Many State FAs seem to feel insecure over the presence of these clubs, who more often than not, are better managed than State teams, the former however are quick to deny this. Many fail to realise or even accept the fact that Kedah, Police and Armed Forces last year finished below the clubs in Premier II. Kedah got RM1 million while Police and Armed Forces got RM300,000 each but yet faltered behind clubs who received only RM200,000 each from FAM. Thus it is ironic that Police and got an increase of RM100,000 to a subsidy of RM400,000 for the new season, It is indeed sad that some State FA officials are short-sighted and blinded by personal agendas, leaving the game to suffer. Thus, it is important that Johor FC and Chempaka do well in Premier I to prove that club soccer is thriving and leading to the betterment of Malaysian soccer. The 2002 M-League certainly has all the trappings of an exciting season for many reasons but at the end of the season, is Malaysian soccer going to benefit?
TOP FIVE SCORERS PREMIER ONE Norizam Ali Hassan (Perak): 13 Khalid Jamlus (Perak): 11 Rusdi Suparman (Selangor): 11 Wan Rohaimi Wan Ismail (Ter): 10 Hasmawi Hassan (Penang): 9 Liew Kim Tu (KL): 9
2001 FACTS Total goals (Premier One) 362 in 132 league matches for an average of 2.09 per match. Best Attack Penang (45 goals) Best Defence Penang (concede 14 goals) Highest Scoring game Pahang 6 Negri Sembilan 2 (END)