Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – January 13, 2021, signaled the beginning of the second major lockdown in Malaysia due to worsening Covid-19 levels in the country. But for Liberia’s national team striker Kpah Sherman, it was a day to rejoice as it marks yet another season for him with Kedah Darul Aman FC (Kedah), the 2020 Malaysian Super League runners up, having penned a one-year extension deal with the club.
By Marco Negeri (@marconegeri), Special to FrontPage Africa
Upon completing a plague-ridden debut season with Kedah, Sherman is presented with another chance to regain the prominence of being Malaysian football’s supreme goalgetter, having launched his journey with second tier side MISC-MIFA in 2017 to becoming the league’s Golden Boot winner in 2019 with PKNS FC. That prolific form prompted Kedah’s Head Coach, Aidil Sharin Sahak to snap him up, together with Ivorian Tchetche Kipre and form a dream partnership for any Malaysian club that are familiar with their exploits.
In the brief number of matches that they featured together, Sherman and Kipre were able to demonstrate that the expensive deals brokered to pair them together was money well spent, with both contributing a total of 15 out of the 23 team goals for Kedah last season. Significantly, thanks to their heroics, Kedah was able to finish second in the league, handing them a coveted spot in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup 2021 tournament, which is Asia’s equivalent to the Europa League.
With Kedah making a return to the competition since its last appearance in 2008, and the opportunity for him to feature in a high-level Asian club competition again following last year’s Asian Champions League qualifiers, the bar has been raised for Sherman in 2021. After spending several seasons stamping his mark on Malaysian football, he now confronts the test of proving himself against Asia’s best.
As competition for places in the national football team or the Lone Stars intensifies, Sherman needs to reproduce the rich vein of form he displayed in 2019 to stake his
claim as Liberia’s main dangerman. Having made that job his during the World Cup and AFCON qualifiers in 2019, he will have his work cut out for him this time around due to the emergence of European based forwards such as Peter Wilson and potentially, Iñaki Williams.
In addition, Kedah’s participation in the AFC Cup has presented him with the chance to showcase himself in front of a regional audience. Asia’s club tournaments have long served as hunting grounds for Asian clubs to scout for exciting talents, and if he is able to replicate his form in Malaysia, the region’s big boys would start to take notice.
With the AFC Cup group stages commencing in June 2021 and played at a centralized venue, it may pose a dilemma for Sherman as Liberia could also resume their World Cup qualifiers in the same month, subject to further announcements by the international governing body of football, FIFA. He would have to face a ‘club versus country’ conundrum, in the way it happened for Cedric Bakambu, who had to forgo Beijing Guoan’s Asian Champions League matches in Qatar last November over international commitments with Congo.
What Sherman doesn’t have is the option to decide how to perform in the Malaysian league as it kicks off in February or March 2021. The Malaysian Football League (MFL) has looked into innovative and modern ways to ensure that football resumes normally despite the Covid-19 restrictions, granting him no reason not to dazzle in 2021. That said, with his immense talent, Sherman must discern that at some point, Malaysia can no longer serve as his usual playground if he wants to safeguard his position in the Lone Stars. He needs to find a bigger park.
Coach Peter Butler is given the liberty to sleuth everywhere as he lays the foundation to his Lone Stars side, but that should not shift his focus from the goalscoring exploits of Sherman that Malaysian fans have been able to witness. Malaysia may not be Europe, but it brought out the best in Sherman.
It helped him achieve his Liberian dream.