The Lone Striker

In sport one man should never be bigger than team. Some may have their performances lift them into a position of prominence within that team, but how they and the coach handles the situation when this happens can determine not only the future of the team, but also the individual.

Sports history is littered with players whose natural ability saw them able to behave in ways that most other top flight players could never do. The drinking and womanising of George Best is a prime example until eventually it bang to take its toll. Cricketer Doug Walters was another who was happy to drink long into the night, but could still produce the goods come game time.

Those were different times you may say. Which brings us to the modern day superstars, Lionel Messi is a true superstar but never do you see him pushing himself to be bigger than the team. Ryan Giggs was clearly a talented player in his teenage years but Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson made sure that he was managed carefully so that he never believed the publicity and remained first and foremost a player with in a team.

In Asia talented players are often raised up onto a pedestal and some can handle it and some cannot, again it comes down to the people around these young players.

The good news for Malaysian Hockey Fans is that the Malaysian Hockey Confederation has finally taken a stand against the undoubtedly talented striker Faizal Saari.

In March 2015 Faizal Saari stayed away from National Team training citing the non-payment of match-winning bonuses as one of the reasons. He had not been a part of the national team’s training since the Hockey World League Second Round in Singapore in January,

He was supposed to turn up for training in February but did not show up.

He then played for SSSC in the Hong Kong Hockey League – without getting the green light from the Malaysian Hockey Confederation (MHC). The following week he suddenly turned up at training with the national team.

Faizal then had to face the Disciplinary Board for playing in the Hong Kong Hockey League without getting MHC’s permission. The secretary of the MHC at the time Datuk Mohd Johari Abdul Aziz said that Faizal was only given permission to play in the Hong Kong league until the previous October.

“We never stop our players from featuring in foreign leagues but they must get our approval first,” JOhari was quoted as saying.

On the eve of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup National team manager Datuk Nur Azmi Ahmad advised that Faizal had to change his attitude if he wanted to continue playing for the national team.

National coach Tai Beng Hai understandably had concerns over Faizal’s fitness, but it is believed he was pressured into selected the “pin-up boy” of Malaysian Hockey for the tournament. Malaysia finished last losing the play off for 5th to Canada, Faizal was, as he has been for the past 18 months well below par.

Once again he has gone missing in action from the National training camp, and finally the MHC has taken a stand. He is expected to be suspended from all Hockey in Malaysia.

The sad thing is Faizal is still only 24 years of age. On his day he is one of the most lethal strikers in World Hockey. He is both fast and skilful, he is also a forward who is an extremely effective penalty corner drag flicker.

His rapid rise however was never checked, his ego never pegged back. Instead he continued to be lavished with the financial rewards that his talents garnered. Yet these rewards should have been collective, for the whole team and not the individual. A case of the teams wins, we all win. Sadly as expected resentment built up in the team and as a result, and as he began to get away with skipping training others questioned why they where not afforded the same privileges.

It would be a great shame if Faizal Saari were not only lost to Malaysian Hockey but also to world hockey, but this young man needs to realise that without his team mates winning tackles and passing to him he cannot score, without their guile to win Penalty Corners he cannot score. It is a team game, and he must become a part of that team.

The writing was on the wall in the second year of the Hero Hockey India League when Faizal was one of only two Malaysian’s picked up in the player auction. He was signed by Mumbai, but featured rarely as he was not happy with the way that the coach wished to use his talents. Instead of seeing it as a learning experience, and enhancing his game by being used differently to how he was deployed in the Malaysian team, he sulked and made it clear that he would not play that way.

He could have been forgiven this petulance as he was only 22 years old, but what he failed to realise was that he hurt the reputation of Malaysian players as a whole. His behaviour has harmed the opportunity for other Malaysian players to be picked up in the HIL Auction.

Luckily for Malaysian Hockey and Faizal Saari he has age on his side. He is still young enough to see the error of his ways and work out if he wishes to show the maturity required to be a team member. If he does return to the national set up it must now be based on certain provisos. No longer can he welcomed as the returning hero. His place in the squad must be performance based. He must meet the required fitness levels at all times and be a part of the collective team.

Hopefully his career can be revived. Hopefully lessons will be learned and the nest rising star will be handled very differently. For the time being though the Malaysian Hockey Confederation should be commended for taking the stand that they have.

As the three musketeers famously said “All for one, and one for all.”

The Lone Striker

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