Football: Naturalised players not up to the mark, says Santokh Singh

Football: Naturalised players not up to the mark, says Santokh Singh
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KUALA LUMPUR (May 30):  National football legend Datuk Santokh Singh has expressed his disappointment with the performance of naturalised players in Harimau Malaya’s two recent international friendlies, which they lost.

The former national and Selangor defender also questioned the need for the national team to use the services of naturalised players, who he said have not made any major impact on the international stage.

“I’m aware they lost 0-2 (to Bahrain), so what’s the point of bringing naturalised players to play. Last time even without naturalised players Malaysia could qualify for the Olympic Games. Now, their presence could not help us win.

“I’m not angry with any parties, but I’m upset that they (naturalised players) could not reproduce their Super League form which has won them recognition to be absorbed as naturalised players. Play for the love of the country,” he told Bernama today.

Santokh, 68, admitted that he was not in favour of using naturalised players as this would affect the chances of local players to represent the country.

“What will happen to local players who have trained very hard (in a bid) to wear the national jersey? For whom are they going to play if not the national team?” said Santokh, who played an instrumental role in Malaysia’s qualification for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.

Malaysia qualified for the Moscow Games but withdrew in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Harimau Malaya lost 1-4 to Kuwait in a warm-up match in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Sunday before losing to Bahrain in a Tier 1 international friendly at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa yesterday.

However, Brazilian-born Guilherme De Paula, 34, scored in the match against Kuwait when making his debut as a naturalised player in the national team.

The two friendlies were held ahead of Malaysia’s campaign in the Group G second round qualifiers for the World Cup 2022/Asian Cup 2023 in Dubai beginning Thursday.

Chief coach Tan Cheng Hoe has included three naturalised players - midfielder Newcastle Jets Liridon Krasniqi, Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) winger Mohamadou Sumareh and De Paula (JDT) - in the 25-member squad for the qualifying campaign.

Meanwhile, another former football great Khalid Ali said Malaysia’s performance was affected by their lack of match practice since the Covid-19 pandemic hit early last year.

He said the national team, who had not played in competition since November 2019, were struggling to give their best in the two friendlies but he believed they can improve.

“We can learn a lot from the two matches, particularly in terms of not losing ball possession and being caught off-position. It was clear that more mistakes started creeping in after 60 minutes of play, and this was due to lack of fitness,” said Khalid, a striker in the Moscow Olympics qualifying campaign.

After opening their campaign in Dubai against the UAE, Malaysia will take on Vietnam on June 11 and Thailand on June 15.