KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 ― Malaysia is set to have its first ever under-18 professional footballer in the Belgian League after Belgium club KV Kortrjik agreed to sign him on a five-year deal.

Club owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan said the Kelantan-born Luqman Hakim Shamsuddin will start training with Cardiff City FC in the UK, come January next year before signing on as the first ever professional Malaysian player in the Europe Top Division upon reaching 18 years old next March.

“I think he (Luqman) could make it. His heart is in the right place. He needs to be working hard. Everything is on him now,” he told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

The Union of European Football Associations (Uefa) ranked the Belgian Pro League as the 10th best league in Europe.

Luqman is a product of Ministry of Youths and Sports’ own National Football Development Programme (NFDP) since 2014 and was known as a prolific scorer with an abundance of talent.

Tan is the owner of both Cardiff FC and KV Kortrjik as well as another club in Bosnia. 

Asked why he picked Luqman among other players in the country, Tan said that the striker brings results and has what it takes to survive. 

“He scores goals. He has technique skills and the heart. But everything is up to him now. I hope he works hard. 

“He knows that we are behind him, I have asked the management to look after him,” he said.

Meanwhile, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who was also present at the press conference, said if Luqman succeeds, he would pave the way for more Malaysian players, especially from NFDP to ply their trade in Europe and help lift Malaysia’s football rankings.

“Today has become a benchmark to other players, especially his brothers in NFDP to spur them and prove that they too have a chance to ply their trade in Europe,” he said.

Syed Saddiq also compared Luqman to his Malaysia Under-19 striker 19-year-old Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak who join Fagiano Okayama in Japanese J-2 League which opened doors for seven more young Malaysian players who are undergoing trial in the country this season.

Luqman looked nervous when approached by reporters but said he would do his best to make best use of this opportunity, as playing football in Europe has always been his dream.

“I have to prepare myself mentally and physically to be there. Of course I will do my best. It is my dream. I will seize it,” he told reporters after the event.

Although football is the number one sport in Malaysia, the senior team only ranks 158 out of 211 International Football Federation (Fifa) countries.

To gain work permits to play in the United Kingdom and the illustrious English League, a footballer must come from a country that has a Fifa ranking of 70 and above.

There are several Malaysian players who have played in Europe before but never at the top division of the country’s league.

In 1987, former NFDP coach Lim Teong Kim played for a season with Hertha Berlin SC in the third division of the German Bundesliga. 

In 2001, Striker Rudie Ramli and Midfielder Fazli Shaari signed a year contract with another third division side in German, SV Wehen but left after five months. 

The longest Malaysian-born player to play in Europe was Titus James Palani, a graduate of the prestigious Le Harve football academy and currently plays with French third division side, CS Meaux. 

Titus, now an EU permanent resident has never represented Malaysia in senior football but spent almost two decades in France playing with Nanteuil SC, FC Villenoy and Normandy in the lower tier of French club football.

Meanwhile, current Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) midfielder Nazmi Faiz was recruited when he was 16 by Portugese second division side Beira-Mar in 2012 but left after six months.