Undiscovered gems can emerge from Malaysia’s rapidly improving football structure for A-League clubs hunting bargains, says Sabah Hawks’ Aussie coach Gary Phillips.
Phillips, a former Sydney Olympic and Brisbane Strikers midfielder, says football in Malaysia is also beginning to emerge from the doldrums after a disastrous Asian Cup 2007.
Phillips knows Asian football well and also knows what it takes to succeed in Australia. After almost 400 games in the former NSL and a championship as a coach with Sydney Olympic, Phillips coached in the W-League and in the Institute system.
In Asia, he's coached Vietnam V-League side Da Nang and was Manager of Project Future with the AFC. There he selected, managed and mentored young coaches around six Asian zones in 47 countries.
"Having watched Malaysia win the South-East Asian Games late last year, the country has enormous potential and a love for the game that is enormous," Phillips explained to au.fourfourtwo.com.
"Sabah captain Reithauddin Awang Emran and former national team player Mafry Balang can play A-League now. They are two solid defenders with exposure to better environment would take their game to another level."
Following some disastrous results as Malaysia dropped to 154 in the world rankings in 2007 - prompting calls by the government to disband FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) - the SEA success has seen the Malaysian government ramp up funding to the sport.
The National Sports School have a football program with a three-year live-in program for U19 players. This team competes in the Malaysian Premier League and won the title last season.
Meanwhile the current U21 Malaysian national team are living in Slovakia and playing friendly matches on a weekly basis.
It all bodes well for A-League clubs hunting out bargains.
"Sabri Sahar has the ability and attitude to become an outstanding player," said Phillips. "If he was given an opportunity in Australia with a season in the NYL to toughen him up he would not be far away from A-League level."
Sabah are flourishing under the Aussie's guidance too and are in striking distance of a top two spot and promotion from the Malaysian Premier League (second division) to the Super League.
After an offer from former Socceroo Scott Ollerenshaw - a former Sabah great now running the Borneo Cup (www.borneofootballcup.com) - to coach the Hawks, Phillips is enjoying being back on the track on a daily basis.
And in Phillips - who holds an AFC A licence - A-League clubs have an instant source of local knowledge.
Thai Surat Sukha was the first player from Southeast Asia to play at in the A-League and he was soon joined at Melbourne Victory by on-loan striker Sutee Suksomkit. Meanwhile Melbourne Heart will trial Indian player Gouramangi Singh this July.
Phillips believes Malaysia - a country that has seen a number of Australian players and coaches over the years - could be next on the list of less well-known AFC nations making in-roads into the A-League.
"I am enjoying being back in the coaching jungle, literally, on the Island of Borneo," added Phillips. "And for A-League clubs more importantly, even the second division here has players with potential to make an impact in the A-League."