I was inspired to write this article after noticing that there was a small but heavy Argentine invasion making an impact in Malaysian football. It reminded me of an historical moment that took place here 10 years ago. As of now there are 5 Argentine players on the books on 4 different teams.
First is Bruno MARTELOTTO (formerly of Sportivo Belgrano & San Martín), a mercurial engache style playmaker who is having a splendid season with the Armed Force team and someone who is no stranger to Malaysian football (more about him later). The second is prolific goal scorer & former Huracán striker Muriel ORLANDO, who is attached with Johor FA. Supporting him is another product of Huracán, playmaker Ezequiel GALLEGOS. Then there is former Argentinos Juniors striker Leonel NUNEZ, who was brought in by Johor DT as a replacement for former Spanish international & Euro 2008 winner Daniel GUIZA. Lastly is former Vélez Sarsfield and Tristán Suárez striker Matías CONTI, who plays for Pahang FA.
Both NUNEZ and CONTI were only signed in early April and have already made immediate impact with their respective teams, scoring some spectacular goals. As someone who is deeply in love with Argentina, I’m just thrilled to see the success these players have brought in my own backyard. I’m always glued to the local newspaper, internet and live matches involving these players, keeping an eye on their progress and have often tweet about them regularly. Perhaps it is good for everyone to have a brief understanding on the history and hierarchy of Malaysian domestic football.
Malaysia is a country that consist of 14 different states, and each states have its own Football Association’s which runs its respective states teams. Hence you get the name of teams like Johor FA and Pahang FA for example. These are considered as the premier teams in Malaysia, therefore have earned the rights to compete in the biggest competition in the country, the Malaysia Cup. Below the radar however there were there leagues or competition which consists of clubs teams that were mostly operating either on semi-pro or full time amateur basis.
During the late-90’s clubs were allowed to compete in top flights competitions alongside State teams, a practice that continues until today. Over the years, some have been gaining momentum, in terms of being professionally manage and getting good reputations on the field. But some were unable to compete in the long run due to lack of sponsor and eventually folded. Once such club was the Majlis Perbandaran Petaling Jaya Football Club or also known as Selangor MPPJ FC.
MPPJ FC were making heavy in road into the top flight of Malaysian football since the 1990’s and in 2002, they were promoted to the Premier 2 League. Though Premier 2 was considered as a 2nd tier league football, but it also gave opportunity for teams which finishes within top 4 qualifications to play in the Malaysia Cup. The Black Widow as they are known, surprised everyone when they did in fact finished in 3rd place thus made it to the Malaysia Cup competition.; going all the way to the quarter-final in that year. The following year, they made two important signings which laid the foundation to the club success. The two combined to form perhaps the most deadly midfield-striker combo seen in Malaysian football (just think off the Diego FORLAN-Román RIQUELME combo for Villareal in 2005). I must admit that I wasn’t following the domestic scene much back then but I did took some interest in this since it involved two Albiceleste imports.
The first was a striker born in the city of San Francisco, Córdoba; Juan Manuel AROSTEGUI. A product of Boca Juniors youth system and played alongside Juan Roman RIQUELME and Juan Sebastian VERON. He never made the cut for the senior team, thus moved to Club El Porvenir and Club Atlético Belgrano before arriving in Malaysia. The other was Bruno MARTELOTTO also from San Francisco, Córdoba (coincidence?); who was playing with Penang FA in 2002.
In their first official match together, MPPJ FC started off impressively with a 4-0 win against the Police team, with AROSTEGUI scoring a hat-trick & MARTELOTTO the other; giving everyone a taste of what was to come from them. AROSTEGUI was so deadly in front of goal; he ended up being the top scorer in Premier 2 with a 33 goals from 22 appearances. Many of them were down to MARTELOTTO’s midas touch from midfield.
Well the good run didn’t just stop there as La Viuda Negro manages to finished 4th in Premier 2, once again qualifying for the Malaysia Cup. This time they went one step further by making it to the semi-final where they were pitted against Perlis FA.
In the first leg, MPPJ FC won the match 3-1 at home with both AROSTEGUI & MARTELOTTO finding the net. In the return leg, they manage to hold on to a 1-1 draw thanks to AROSTEGUI’s equalizer thus winning the tie 4-2 on aggregate. As a result they became the first club side to play in the Malaysia Cup Final where they were up against Sabah FA.
The build up to the final was very exciting and almost as if the whole nation is rooting for them to make history. The match was played at the National Stadium, Bukit Jalil and it was a pleasure to see several Argentine flags and shirts amongst the 70,000 crowd who attended the game. Not surprising at all since both players did capture the imagination among the legion of Albiceleste lovers in this country. MPPJ FC put up a dazzling & dominant performance thus winning the final 3-0, thus becoming the first and ONLY club side ever to win the most prestigious trophy in Malaysia. And as fate would have it; AROSTEGUI knows to his adoring fans as El Santo, capped off the night with a brilliant hat-trick. In total he scored a massive 50 goals in all competition for that year.
The future did look bright for MPPJ FC from then onwards but sadly that wasn’t the case. They suffered a startling and abrupt demise from the years to follow due mismanagement involving the municipality. Many key players left the team due to non-payment of salaries and bonuses. AROSTEGUI eventually left in 2004 and has since found himself playing in Mexico, Chile, Spain, Italy and also Argentina. Rumours has it that he was going to return back to Malaysia couple of years ago but we have not heard anything ever since.
MARTELOTTO packed his bags in 2005 and went on to play in Greece & Chile before coming back to Malaysia in 2012. He came close of winning his second Malaysia Cup medal but his Armed Force team lost the final to Kelantan FA 2-3. Eventually in 2007, MPPJ FC finally had their last nail in the coffin as they failed to register a team for the new season and eventually folded. But history will never forget for the achievement they have made just 4 years earlier.
Thank you Sivan John for writing this interesting article.