* No automatic first team place for foreigners
* Felda team will be picked on merit and match strategies
Much has been said and written about the FA of Malaysia’s (FAM) decision to allow M-League teams to field all their four foreign players during matches in a change of rules for the 2015 season.
There has been much hue and cry from several quarters, alleging that the foreign players will deny local players from competitive matches that will also affect the national team in the long run.
However, Felda United chief coach Irfan Bakti begs to differ and instead views the foreign players to “wake up” the local players to prove their worth and fight for their place in the team.
“The local players should use the platform and improve their football. This is a challenge to them (the locals) and they should grab the opportunity to win a place in the first team,” said Irfan who guided Felda to promotion to the elite Super League for the 2015 season with a second place finish in the second-tier Premier League.
Despite playing in the Premier League, Felda also reached their first ever FA Cup final (but lost 2-1 to Pahang in the 2014 final) and gave star-studded Johor Darul Takzim a run for their money in the Malaysia Cup semi-finals before bowing out 6-5 on aggregate.
“I challenge the local players to strut their (football) stuff and win a place in the first team. We (locals) are as good as the foreigners. Take it as a challenge and show that we Malaysians can also play good football.
“I have taken a firm stand on my team…it will be picked on merit. I have four foreign players in the squad but it does not mean all four will be automatic choices in my team. If I have to start a match with an all-local lineup then let it be. No one is indispensable. No one is an automatic choice in my team.
“The players will have to fight for their place. If a player is good and deserves a first team he will get to play. I will never deny a player a chance of playing in the first team. Also, my team will be picked according to my match strategies,” added Irfan, who is pleased with team’s pre-season preparations that included a three-match playing tour of Dubai last month.
Felda drew 0-0 with the Palestine national team that will compete in the Asian Cup Finals in Australia this month, a 1-1 draw against Oman club Al Jazeera, followed by a 2-0 win over a Dubai Second Division club.
Irfan draws inspiration that on the tour he was without his two internationals, skipper Shukor Adan and Indra Putra Mahayuddin who were on national duty for the AFF Suzuki Cup, and his Liberian internationals Edward Junior Wilson and Zah Rahan Krangar. The Liberians ran into visa snags following the outbreak of Ebola in their motherland.
The other foreigners in Felda are Australian striker Ndumba Makeche and new signing Bojan Miladinovic, a defender from Serbia who last played for Uzbek League champions Pakhtakor.
This Saturday, Felda will be off to Bandung for another friendly – against Persib Bandung on the invitation of the reigning Indonesian Super League champions. The match will be played on Sunday and Felda return on Monday.
Felda have also lined up friendly matches against Western Australia, Penang, Perak and JDT II before the M-League kicks-off on Feb 7. The M-League’s curtain raiser – the Charity Shield – between Malaysia Cup champions Pahang and League champions JDT – will be played at the Larkin Stadium in Johor Bahru on Jan 31.
After missing out on a silverware last season, The Fighters have set a target of winning at least one trophy this season.