Ballin’ in Lon­don

Two tal­ented young Malaysians scored a chance to train at the QPR academy in Lon­don.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CLARISSA SAY claris­sasay@ thes­tar. com. my

The R. AGE crew fol­lows two young Malaysian foot­ballers as they travel to Lon­don to see if they have what it takes to make it in English football.

FOR most young foot­ballers around the world, English football would be pretty high up the list in terms of life goals – pun in­tended.

And that’s why Sathyswaran Manoharn, 18, and Ariff Saufi Ab­dul­lah, 16, were both so ex­cited when they found out they had won the chance to train with the Queens Park Rangers academy in Lon­don.

“It was the hap­pi­est mo­ment of my life,” said Sathys, who plans to study en­gi­neer­ing but dreams of be­ing a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. When his brother, Sathys’s big­gest football in­spi­ra­tion, heard the news, he hugged him and cried.

The R. AGE crew tagged along to doc­u­ment the boys’ jour­ney, and to see if they could make it at a club that was only just in the Premier League last sea­son, battling it out with your Manch­ester Unit­eds, Chelseas, Liver­pools and Ar­se­nals.

And even though QPR’s cur­rent sea­son hasn’t ex­actly gone to plan ( the club is 11th in the Cham­pi­onship, the sec­ond tier of English football), at the grass­roots level, the club still has strong foun­da­tions.

Part of that foun­da­tion is the work done by QPR In The Com­mu­nity Trust, which or­gan­ises the an­nual AirAsia-QPR Coach­ing Clinic Tour to un­cover Asian foot­balling ta­lent.

The best are then whisked away to Lon­don where they’d not only get to train with pro­fes­sional coaches, but also ex­pe­ri­ence first hand what it’s like be­ing part of an English football club.

And maybe, just maybe, they could im­press the QPR coaches enough to take things to the next level.

The English game

Sathys and Ariff said they trained like crazy to im­press the AirAsia- QPR tour coaches. Sathys said he trained twice a day, ev­ery day, even in the rain.

That work ethic would serve Sathys and Ariff well, as they went through the same train­ing as all the other boys at the QPR academy, where the peo­ple – al­most lit­er­ally – eat, drink and live football.

Ev­ery as­pect of the academy play­ers’ daily rou­tines are de­signed to make them the best play­ers they can be. Their meals, for ex­am­ple, are care­fully de­signed to help them per­form.

“That’s why we haven’t had any fish and chips so far!” said Sathys with a laugh.

Not ev­ery­thing about the ex­pe­ri­ence was new. Both of them al­ready play for lo­cal youth teams back in Malaysia, so they were familiar with some of the drills.

As an added bonus, the boys were also al­lowed to watch the QPR first team in train­ing, which means they were able to see how top pro­fes­sion­als like Clint Hill, Ne­dum On­uoha and Robert Green train, un­der the watch­ful eyes of man­ager and for­mer Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink.

But what re­ally struck Sathys and Ariff was the amount of tac­ti­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal train­ing the ju­nior teams go through. They spent al­most as much time in the class­room as they did on the pitch.

All their train­ing ses­sions were recorded and played back to them for anal­y­sis and dis­cus­sion.

Sathys said the coaches were con­stantly ask­ing the play­ers to eval­u­ate their own per­for­ma­ces, which helps them be­come more ma­ture as play­ers.

Academy coach Kes Casely- Haw­ford was im­pressed by the Asian boys’ tech­ni­cal skills, but noted a dif­fer­ence in their ap­proach to the game.

“They share the ball quite a lot,” he said, adding that they were more re­luc­tant to take ini­tia­tive on the ball, and more keen to pass it around.

“And to be hon­est, they were a lit­tle more un­der­stand­ing of each other and them­selves when they made mis­takes.”

Lee Hayes, an­other QPR academy coach, said the Asian young­sters should learn to have more of a com­pet­i­tive streak.

“For our young play­ers, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause they’re brought up to be very com­pet­i­tive in sports, es­pe­cially

football. And in the en­vi­ron­ment that we cre­ate, it is about be­ing the best of the best at all times,” he said.

The gulf in class be­came ap­par­ent when the boys were put through a friendly match against non- league side Weald­stone FC ( where for­mer Eng­land left- back Stu­art Pearce started his ca­reer), which they lost 5- 0.

Granted, the match was played in freez­ing tem­per­a­tures, but Ariff said they were sim­ply caught out by their op­po­nents’ phys­i­cal strength and speed.

“Even though they were the un­der16 team, they were re­ally big and tall, and they played with such a high tempo,” he said.

The Asian myth

Af­ter the match, R. AGE spoke to QPR tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Chris Ram­sey ( he manged the club when they were in the Premier League), and he dis­missed the myth that Asian play­ers were in­fe­rior sim­ply be­cause of their size.

“In the past, peo­ple in the scout­ing sys­tem had a stigma against Asian play­ers, that they were small, or not pas­sion­ate about soc­cer the way English play­ers were,” said Ram­sey.

“That was a myth that’s mis­guided, re­ally, and I think most clubs are try­ing to change the mind­sets of the peo­ple re­cruit­ing play­ers.”

Play­ers like Le­ices­ter City’s Shinji Okazaki – whose all- ac­tion dis­plays has helped his club reach the top of the Premier League ta­ble this sea­son – and Swansea City’s Ki Sung- Yueng have done a lot to help bust those myths, but still, Ram­sey be­lieves English clubs could do more.

On their part, Ram­sey said QPR is open to sign­ing any player re­gard­less of his na­tion­al­ity – all that mat­ters is that they’re good enough.

“We’re hop­ing the di­ver­sity that we’re try­ing to bring to the club re­flects the peo­ple that sup­port the club – lo­cals and those from around the world, so I think it’s long over­due in English football for an Asian player to be at the top,” he said.

To give the boys some added mo­ti­va­tion to aim for the top, QPR and AirAsia ar­ranged for the boys to form the guard of hon­our dur­ing an ac­tual match, QPR vs Derby County.

They were also in­tro­duced to the Lof­tus Road faith­ful at half- time, and took part in some light- hearted train­ing drills on the pitch.

“I’ve never been on a proper football pitch be­fore!” said Ariff.

Sathys and Ariff then watched the rest of the game from the AirAsia VIP box, where QPR chair­man Tan Sri Tony Fer­nan­des him­self took some time out to speak with them.

The match it­self ended in an im­por­tant 2- 0 win for QPR, which kept their faint hopes of pro­mo­tion to the Premier League ( via the play- offs) alive. Even then, the fans were in fine form, singing and chant­ing through­out the game.

It was a fine ex­am­ple of the pas­sion of the English game, but ac­cord­ing to Sathys and Ariff, pas­sion was some­thing Malaysian football has never lacked any­way.

Both are huge fans of Malaysian football. They both dream of play­ing for Se­lan­gor and, some­day, Hari­mau Malaysia.

When asked if the at­mos­phere at Lof­tus Road was any dif­fer­ent from what they had ex­pe­ri­enced back home, Ariff laughed and said: “Sama je!”

— Hand­out

Malaysian foot­ballers Ariff Saufi Ab­dul­lah and Sathyswaran Manoharn ( fourth from left and sec­ond from right) won the chance to train with QPR Football Club thanks to the AirAsia- QPR Coach­ing Clinic Tour. Watch the video at rage. com. my.

Sathys ( sec­ond left) watch­ing the QPR vs Derby County game from the AirAsia VIP box at Lof­tus Road.

For­mer Premier League man­ager Chris Ram­sey be­lieves there is a ‘ stigma’ against Asian play­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.