Oranje treat for Malaysia?

Oranje treat for Malaysia?

By Darren Goon

Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United. Malaysia’s fascination with the English Premier League is well-documented, so perhaps it’s only appropriate that five of the Premier League’s biggest clubs - as well as um, Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers - have paid our tropical shores a visit within the past decade.

Dutch striker Robin van Persie playing for Arsenal against Malaysia in a recent pre-season tour

Dutch striker Robin van Persie playing for Arsenal against Malaysia in a recent pre-season tour

Since 2008, a Malaysian XI (mainly comprising national team players) has played Premier League clubs with such regularity, it has almost become an annual summer event.

Fans have grown so accustomed to having some of the biggest names in world football pop by the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, that pitting a club side against a side that is essentially the Malaysian national team is hardly seen as an unusual occurrence, as it would if the roles were reversed. England vs. Kaizer Chiefs? Italy to play Muangthong United? How unlikely.

Everyone wants a piece of the pie. And due to Malaysia’s measly current FIFA World Ranking of 164, we are hardly in the best bargaining position to organise friendly matches against quality opposition. Thank goodness, then, for these big English club sides, sating our thirst for quality European football. Can’t make it to Stamford Bridge? Chelsea FC will come to you!

This year seemed no different. Chelsea and Spanish titans Barcelona announced plans to play friendly matches during the summer. The Blues would be making their third visit to Malaysia in the last five years, while it will be Barça’s maiden trip here. Malaysian fans are ecstatic at the prospect of Lionel Messi gliding about on Bukit Jalil’s sandy turf.

And then it got even better. Various news sources reported last week that the Netherlands might visit Kuala Lumpur to play a friendly against Harimau Malaya, with The New Straits Times rather misleadingly announcing that “The Dutchmen are coming”, while it was still under negotiation.

Not since a friendly with Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001 have we had the opportunity to play a European national team. Sure, English club sides are some of the best in the world, but this is the Netherlands! European Championship winners! Founders of Total Football! Conversely, Harimau Malaya’s recent friendly opposition include Bangladesh, Hong Kong, and various other Southeast Asian neighbours, so it would be fair to say the Dutch are on a different planet.

But first, the facts. The Dutch national football team will embark on a ten-day Asia Tour this summer, playing Indonesia at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium on 7th June and China at the Worker’s Stadium on 11th June. The Netherlands have historical ties with Indonesia.

In the footballing sense, several players born in Indonesia and Suriname have represented Oranje in the past, and vice versa. This trip was first mentioned in autumn last year, with coach Louis van Gaal claiming in October 2012 that he believed that the tour is financially-motivated, a comment which was predictably poorly-received in China.

While newspaper articles indicated that negotiations were still ongoing, and that bringing the Dutch here is far from being a done deal, one cannot help but be apprehensive as to the likelihood of this proposed international friendly materialising.

The New Straits Times article claims that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have “slated either June 6 or 10 for the friendly”, and that “Malaysia will face Singapore on June 4 and 7 in a two-leg international friendly and are likely to play the Dutch on June 10.”

The two-legged tie with Singapore represents one of the key aspects of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Malaysian and Singaporean Football Associations in July 2011, which states that both Associations seek to encourage more friendly matches at national and youth level between both nations, over the span of four years, from 2012 onwards.

If Malaysia are to play Holland on the 6th, that match would be a day before their respective games against Singapore and Indonesia. Of course, the Dutch could bring a huge squad and fully-utilise it by deploying two separate teams in each half, or the match could be played at half-pace, but even the most naïve football fan could tell you that playing two international games in two different (albeit neighbouring) countries in the space of two days is a daft idea.

Furthermore, a match on the 10th is definitely out of the question, as Jakarta and Beijing are almost 3,000 miles apart. With an evening kick-off at the Worker’s Stadium likely, surely it would be implausible that the KNVB would allow their players to play an international match mere hours after arriving from an eight-hour journey. What about acclimatisation?

But can the Dutch bring a huge squad on their Asia Tour? An additional complication is the European Under-21 Championship, which begins on 5th June in Israel, and Oranje are grouped with Spain, Germany, and Russia. Robust opposition.

Tournament regulations allow players who are aged up to 23 years of age to participate, as long as they were 21 or under when the tournament qualification process began. Consequently, players like Stefan de Vrij, Ricardo van Rhijn, Bruno Martins Indi, Daley Blind, Jordy Clasie, Adam Maher, Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum, Luuk de Jong, and Tonny Vilhena might not make the Asian trip, if they are selected for the U-21 Euros. This might greatly reduce the number of squad players available, probably resulting in call-ups for older players or youngsters who didn’t make the trip to Israel, to pad out the squad.

As such, I’m doubtful that a deal could be struck to schedule a match on the dates mentioned in The New Straits Times’ article. When brought to the attention of Dutch football expert Mohamed Moallim, he said that it was “too late in the day to be negotiating”, and that it is “not fair on the players”.

Fair point, and since summer 2013 is the first real break Holland’s international footballers have had since 2011 (despite an early Euro 2012 exit), club gaffers will not be pleased that their star players are traipsing through Asia, playing glorified exhibition games, even though ironically, they’ll probably end up doing something similar a month later with their respective clubs.

Then again, a financially-appealing package tends to smooth out even the most complicated of negotiations. As van Gaal succinctly put it, “We do this because of the money, and we try to make it a nice trip.” Time will tell if the Dutch add another stop to their itinerary.

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