Not too long ago, tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan attempted to bring the most promising football talent in Malaysia to one of his football clubs in Europe.
We are now being told that the fairytale-like journey may not end happily ever after.
The attempt was instead a political stunt to validate the National Football Development Programme (NFDP), to justify the need for more government funds and to address the public relations crisis faced by former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman among the unforgiving football community.
Described as a political-spinning venture, I would like to put this episode up there with Perikatan Nasional’s takeover of Putrajaya.
Having Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin, a young Malaysian graduating from a government-run football development programme and being offered a professional contract with Belgium club KV Kortrijk, is a stroke of genius.
It not only legitimised the programme as a success and justified the increase of RM30 million taxpayers money spent on the NFDP but was also a way to uplift Syed Saddiq’s stature in the eyes of the very large football community in Malaysia.
If this was the fairytale, imagine how well NFDP will go down among the football community. Imagine how heroic this programme and the former youth and sports minister would have been portrayed as. It will also excite parents who may think their child has what it takes to play in Europe.
Political interventions like this, we’re told, is what led to Malaysian football growing gills and walking backwards to the sea.
Now, even though this was an obvious political manipulation, it doesn’t really mean we’ve sent Luqman to the deepest darkest gutters of Mordor. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
And I’m only saying this because Tan is in the mix. I do feel rather sorry for him – not so sorry because he’s a billionaire, obviously – but sorry because he may now have in his hands a half-witted football talent and the burden of converting him into the nation’s football success story.
Besides owning KV Kortrijk, Tan is also the owner of Cardiff City – a club that Sporting CP is eager to work with.
Obviously, the easiest solution is to have Luqman wear a Sporting CP football shirt after a season in Belgium. In the past, we did the exact thing by providing ‘playing scholarships’ to our promising football talents and sent them to play for European football clubs in Portugal, France, Germany and Belgium among others.
In other words, we paid for our players to be with those football clubs, hoping that those clubs will extend our players’ contract on their own expense.
Unfortunately, our boys did not have much competitive football. Most of them ended up appearing in fewer than five matches throughout the season, only coming on at the 60th minute.
Even the more outstanding ones failed to get their contracts extended and returned to Malaysia.
Historically, it all looks bleak.
But don’t worry, because the circumstances are obviously different for Luqman. He will be in a club that belongs to Tan. This primarily means that Tan would have significant access and influence towards the club’s direction.
Apart from receiving the minimum wage of a non-EU player in Belgium (estimated at 60,000 euros per year), which is 50 per cent higher than the average Belgian footballer, it is also in the interest of the club to ensure that their latest asset does not turn into waste.
And this interest can be seen in the performance clause of Luqman’s contract, which ensures he remains focused and constantly motivated to work hard. Of course, the criticism that this was all a political conspiracy is fair.
I had my share of making fun of the deal on social media as well. But it is not all gloom and doom for Luqman.
The boy simply needs to focus on his football and cash in on this opportunity, because this is one fairytale that all budding football players wish for – to have a fairy godmother (or in this case father) checking in on you and being there when you need it the most.
And like in any fairytale, we can all safely assume that Luqman will (hopefully) live happily ever after.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.