Tan Sri Vincent Tan (left) and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (right) with Luqman Hakim Shamsudin and his parents Hasmah Che Soh and Shamsudin Mahmood at a press conference at Berjaya Times Square Hotel yesterday. -NSTP/ Mohd Khairul Helmy Mohd Din

Malaysian coaches may think he is too young to play for the national team but teenage sensation Luqman Hakim Shamsudin will soon make a big move to Europe.

The 17-year-old striker is going to play in Belgium’s top league, in a country with a Fifa World No 1 ranking.

Luqman will join KV Kortrijk, who are placed 11th in the ongoing Belgian Division 1A league. Below them at 13th place are Anderlecht, the most successful Belgian team in European competitions with five trophies.

The Kota Baru-born Luqman, who is a product of the Mokhtar Dahari Academy, will get to hone his skill in Belgium, a country that has produced stars like Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne.

Luqman has been offered a lengthy five-year contract by KV Kortrijk, which will only begin after his 18th birthday in March next year.

No Malaysian player has been offered such a long-term contract by a European club. To Luqman’s credit, KV Kortrijk believe he has what it takes to be successful in Europe.

He is the seventh footballer from Malaysia to try to make a name in Europe. The previous six did not have much of a success as they would last only between one and two years.

Hopefully, Luqman’s adventure in Europe will be five years or more.

Before he joins the Belgian club, Luqman will gear up for professional football in Europe with a training stint at Cardiff City FC in January next year.

Both KV Kortrijk and Cardiff City FC are owned by businessman Tan Sri Vincent Tan. Luqman’s move to Belgium was announced by Tan in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Tan, who also owns Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles FC, believes Luqman has the quality to be successful in the Belgian league but advised him to have the right mind set.

“We believe it is possible (for Luqman to do well) but it depends on the player because he must have enough discipline to perform, do the right thing, work hard and the attitude.

“They (KV Kortrijk) may let him start or play as a sub. I think it all depends on the player himself,” said Tan.

“Go to the gym, train and beef up. He also needs to be able to communicate with his teammates, managers and learn English.

“The whole country is cheering and I have also asked the management ((KV Kortrijk) to help him since he’s young and coming to a strange country.”

Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman believes Luqman will get to be a better player by playing in Europe.

“There is an ecosystem to support him, to give him support but in the end, it will be up to him to press forward and excel.

“He (Luqman) comes from a tough background and he’s here because he is a fighter who has the drive which ultimately landed him here.”

Excited Malaysian fans are hoping Luqman will make a name for himself in Europe. So, what will set him apart from the likes of Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, Juzaili Samion, Mohd Fadzli Saari, Rudie Ramli, Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Ahmad Fakri Saarani who have played abroad?

B. Satiananthan, who is the president of the Malaysian Football Coaches Association, feels that if Luqman can tough it out in Belgium, he can succeed there.

“Don’t complain about the food (there) because this is often the the issue with the (Malaysian) players. During winter, they have to rough it out also. It’s not easy.

“Another important factor is friends. He must know how to mix around. He shouldn’t keep to himself and he must also learn to speak their language.

“It’s all about hard work. They don’t care (whether you make it or not) and everyone works hard during training,” said Satiananthan.

Although Luqman’s move is a step in the right direction, Satiananthan also offered a word of caution.

Citing the cases of Fadzli, Rudie and Nazmi, the veteran coach said footballers’ sacrifices would be in vain if they are treated poorly or given a raw deal abroad. That was the main factor behind the six footballers’ early return home from Europe.

“Firstly, we have to see how they are treated. Otherwise, there’s no point in them going. If it weren’t for the better facilities, training methods and such, none will try to go abroad.

“We are not like Africans. They can cramp up in one tent. That’s what I saw when I was in Belgium (World Youth training in 1997) when the Africans were going on trials. They really roughed it out.”

Luqman, who admitted that he is not fluent in English, said he will need to adapt to the language there.

“I need to adapt to the country and also its food. I think I should be able to... after two to three years there.

“I promise to do my best. I want to be successful. I also want to do it for my parents,” said Luqman.

“I have to be independent and adapt accordingly.

“I’ll try to strengthen my body and bulk up. I have four more months to do some training on my muscles at the gym.”

Luqman started hitting the headlines when he emerged as the top scorer at the Asian Football Confederation Under-16 Championship last year and and helped Malaysia to second place in the Asean Under-18 Championship recently.

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