The ASEAN import rule: Is Thailand faring better than Malaysia?

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Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan investigates if the Thai League 1’s ASEAN imports are faring any better than their Malaysia Super League counterparts.

When it was first introduced at the start of season, it was seen as a positive move to develop talent in Southeast Asia with the added benefit of growing interest from neighbouring ASEAN countries.

Yet, five months into 2018, the jury is still out on the ASEAN player quota, which is currently in place in both the Thai League 1 and Malaysia Super League.

Last weekend, Perak TBG’s release of Philippines international Misagh Bahadoran took the number of ASEAN casualties in Malaysia’s top flight up to six.

Six. Out of the MSL’s 12 teams.

Some like Bahadoran and Cambodia star Chan Vathanaka were given a decent opportunity to impress, tried their hardest, but just failed to really make an impact.

Others like Madhu Mohana, Ferdinand Sinaga and Prak Mony Udom departed without even leaving an impression, although – in some of those cases – injury played a part in their failed stints.

Then, there are those such as Selangor’s Indonesian duo Evan Dimas and Ilham Armaiyn, and Singapore international Shahdan Sulaiman of Melaka United,  who continue to try and prove that they can contribute as an import player; the basic requirement of which being to be better than most of those around them.

After all, Perak coach Mehmet Durakovic – following Bahadoran’s release – said to Berita Harian: “As an import player, he is supposed to contribute to the team, but what’s the use if his quality is the same as the local players.”

And, it is a completely fair statement. Foreign players – regardless of whether they are from Brazil, Spain or Myanmar – occupy limited berths and usually command higher wages (although not always) so they should be held to a different set of standards.

Perhaps the one area where clubs could afford to be more giving in is time, rather than expect all their imports to hit the ground running from their first day in a strange, new, foreign land.

The likes of Hariss Harun and Andik Vermansyah in recent seasons, and Faris Ramli (PKNS FC) and Thierry Chantha Bin (Terengganu) this year, are all perfect examples of how a regional import can contribute as much as those boasting a fancier country of origin and a more-glittering CV.

So, while the ASEAN import quota has been more miss than hit thus far in Malaysia, is the situation faring any better further up north?

Well, even if it is just based on Myanmar star Aung Thu alone, the ASEAN player rule in Thai League 1 has been a massive success.

With ten goals to his name already, Aung Thu is presently the joint-fifth top scorer in the competition, ahead of famous names such as Dragan Boskovic (9 goals), Cleiton Silva (5) and Mario Gjurovski (4).

This comes despite the fact that he has not been deployed as the focal point in attack but as a second striker, sharing the attacking workload with Michael N’dri and Marcos Vinicius.

Another that has been a key contributor to his side is Philippines goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard, who has been a crucial component of a Bangkok United backline which has conceded just 18 goals in 17 games to boast the third-best defensive record in T1, after leaking a staggering 57 in 2017.

Still, like the MSL, there has been a fair share of disappointments in Thailand, notably Nigerian-born Vietnamese Hoang Vu Samson, who played just 33 league minutes before being released by Buriram United, and Malaysia’s Kiko Insa, who departed Bangkok Glass with just four appearances to his name.

Overall, has the ASEAN import rule been a success?

Clearly, it is still too early to pass judgment – both in Thailand and Malaysia.

The fact that players like Aung Thu and Faris have made such an immediate impact goes to show that there are Southeast Asian players good enough to be a foreigner in a neighbouring league.

However, other examples suggest that clubs should not sign an ASEAN foreigner – whether it be because it is mandatory or just because everyone else has one – unless they are truly up to standard.

Rather than have a fifth foreigner just making up the numbers, Muangthong United decided to opt out for the first half of the campaign and it has not been – in any way – a decision that has backfired.

If Thai and Malaysian clubs want to sign an ASEAN foreigner just because everyone else has a shiny new toy from a neighbouring country, there are bound to be more than a fair share of failures which, in turn, could be detrimental to both the rule and the reputation of the respective countries of export in the long run.

But, should clubs do their due diligence and only take the plunge if they are genuinely convinced in a player’s quality, then there is no reason why more Aung Thus will be lighting up the stage in the coming seasons.