For all the years I’ve spent reading, writing and speaking, it was strange that I found it difficult to pick a superlative to describe the barrage of criticism Faiz Subri has been receiving on social media, be it for his English proficiency, his decision to speak in English or even the fact that he opted to not wear a Baju Melayu.
To be fair, it’s not like this should even come across as a surprise. A large cross-section of our society is still trapped in a detrimental colonial mindset, that consistently seeks to undermine efforts and achievements of our own people. It’s why the Malaysian music scene doesn’t get as much appreciation as it deserves. It’s probably why Malaysian football continues to struggle for viewership, while bars and restaurants go wild on promotions for English Premier League coverage.
On one hand, you’ve got people slamming him for not being able to execute an English speech with conviction. On the other hand, you’ve got a select few that have made an attempt to hijack the narrative of Faiz Subri’s outfit for the ceremony and turn it into a cultural fracas. But the most outrageous attack on Faiz came via an article that was published on Malaysiakini.
“To be sure, Malaysian football and other sports fans are delighted by Faiz’s achievement in winning the Puskas award. However, if they watched the footage of his moment in the spotlight, whatever pride they must have felt over Faiz being chosen as winner would have been diminished by his shambling performance on being called to receive the prize and say a few words. The emcees’ interjections, aimed at alleviating the uneasiness felt by the live audience as Faiz fumbled to locate and then read his digital text, only served to accentuate the embarrassment,” a certain Terence Netto wrote.
If it wasn’t horrendous enough that he made a feeble attempt at suggesting that Faiz’s on-stage antics were embarrassing for everyone who witnessed it, the writer goes on to play the ‘Malaysian-pride’ card to steal the thunder from what was an incredibly personal moment for Faiz Subri and his family.
Is it really that difficult to comprehend that this isn’t about Malaysia at all? This isn’t about our failing education system. This isn’t about our footballers and how they lack PR skills. This isn’t about Malaysian football and the doldrums that it continuously festers in. Most importantly, this isn’t about a Malaysian’s failed attempt at representing the country on the global stage.
When Wendell Lira teared on stage after receiving the Puskas Award in January 2016, the entire world stood up and clapped in awe. To everyone, including Brazilians, it wasn’t about his team and nationality. It was purely about a man, who spent a large chunk of his life dreaming about being the best in the business, standing in front of undisputed legends of the game, after having to fight hard throughout his career. It didn’t matter if he barely spoke a word of English. It didn’t matter if he couldn’t control his emotions on the stage, like the rest were able to.
If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Faiz Subri, you’d know that he’s one of the humblest figures you will ever come across within the local football scene. And that’s closely tied to his upbringing as well. He was just a regular teenager, who caught the attention of many while playing for a technical school in Arau, Perlis. He probably ate nasi lemak and drank sirap, before going on to sit in front of the television and stare in awe as Ronaldo El Fenomeno destroyed Germany in the 2002 World Cup final, like we all did. But on Monday, unlike the rest of us, Faiz Subri received the Puskas Award from the Brazilian legend himself.
These are moments that rarely exists outside the silver screen. In just 11 months, the 29 year-old scored an outrageous goal, went viral throughout the internet, got himself shortlisted for the Puskas Award, made the final three list, met Sir Alex Ferguson, sat behind Manuel Neuer, took a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo and received a goal-related award from arguably the greatest goal scorer to have ever graced the game.
You don’t need to be a Malaysian to celebrate Faiz Subri’s moment. You shouldn’t look at it from the point of view of a Malaysian either. There’s nothing about it that boosts Malaysia or the profile of Malaysian football – true. You only need to be a regular human being to be happy for a man who fulfilled his childhood dream, which at some point, seemed entirely impossible. A regular human being, that’s all you need to be.
Feel free to be the bastion of hope and push a national agenda with regards to English proficiency and on-stage composure, if you see fit. But is it really that difficult to let a guy have his moment for one day, be nervous, anxious and stutter while his entire mind explodes in radiant ecstasy, in front of legends he idolised as a kid? Is it really that difficult?