Malaysia's decent run in the ongoing World Cup Asian qualification campaign has been achieved partly due to the inclusion of better players on the Harimau Malaya roster.
Tan Cheng Hoe's charges are currently in second place in Group G with nine points, thanks to the great work of a squad composed of not only local-born players, but also of overseas-born mixed-heritage footballers, as well as one naturalised man.
The effort to identify more overseas-born players who could potentially represent Malaysia is not stopping anytime soon, especially not when it is an endeavour that is also being passionately undertaken by the fans as well.
The most recent example of the fans' effort in unearthing hidden gems abroad is the one involving Zambian side Zesco United defender Marcel Kalonda, who was brought to everyone's attention thanks to the aggresive efforts of Twitter user Marco Negeri.
By the Twitter user's own admission, he identified the 22-year old defender on the football management video game Football Manager, while stuck at home during the Covid-19 home lockdown earlier this year.
While Kalonda was at first mistakenly reported to have been born in the Malaysian state of Sabah, he later rectified to the Malaysian media, who began showing interest in him; it was his paternal grandfather who was from Malaysia, while Kalonda's late father was Malaysian also. He however added that he was not raised by his biological father, and instead grew up with his mother and step father.
Records of his playing career are scarce as of now (Goal has reached out to the player on social media), with Transfermarkt.com listing him as having joined Zambian Super League side Kabwe Warriors in early 2016, before moving to Zesco the following year, where he remains until now.
However, what is known about him is that he is playing for one of best Zambian clubs in one of the top African domestic competitions. Zesco have won eight top tier titles, three of them from the most recent three seasons, and they are regular CAF Champions League participants. In their most recent 2019/20 Champions League campaign, Kalonda was listed on their matchday squad for all six of Zesco's group matches, playing in two of them. (Zesco finished last in Group A and did not advance to the knockout stage.)
More encouragingly for him, Malaysia boss Cheng Hoe has been quoted to speak positively of the player's chances to be called up.
"I've seen him play in a CAF Champions League match, and I can say that he has potential due to his height and physique.
"He will be a good option for the team because everyone knows we lack quality defenders. Futhermore, he is only 22 years old, which is good for the team's future," he told Harian Metro.
Malaysia fans will be delighted to know that unlike most mixed-heritage players with eligibility to represent either another country or Malaysia, the 1.88 m tall player has unambiguously expressed his eagerness to don the yellow and black of the country from the get go.
"I'm very, very ready to come play for Malaysia. If the FAM (Malaysian FA) says I can come next week, or today, I'll just come. There's no problem, I'm glad to be of service," said the defender in the interview with Astro Arena.
And Kalonda has backed up his verbal willingness to catch the first flight to Kuala Lumpur when called up, with action.
According to reports, the defender has submitted documents that support his eligibility claim to FAM in early June, and they are currently being verified by the association. At the time this story was published, FAM was yet to respond to Goal's enquiry on the status of Kalonda's eligibility.
The recruitment of foreign-born players by FAM is sometimes viewed cynically by critics and fans alike, but in the case of the Congolese defender, it has to be said that he has the potential to be a key member of the Harimau Malaya, and that potential is backed up by a willingness that can only be described as infectious.