2018 is a hallmark year in Southeast Asian football as two primary leagues in the region opens its door to encourage movement of players within the region. Both the Thai and Malaysia Leagues have changed their ruling to allow an additional import slot for ASEAN players, should the clubs look to take up the option of doing so.
Based on the Member Association rankings in Asian Football Confederation (AFC), these two countries in Thailand and Malaysia represent the two highest standing countries in the region. One which enable both countries to have participants in the AFC Champions League as well as the AFC Cup competitions.
The benefit of both league opening its doors can be seen beneficial to an overall improvement of the players from the region. The opportunity to take in new lifestyles, new training methods as well the chance of improving individual player's footballing capabilities.
From a commercial standpoint, it is also one that is likely to garner and attract more interest from one Southeast Asian country to another - from the increase revenue that could be gain through television rights down to the growing increase on social medias.
Curiously enough, despite being the two countries to apply this rule, there hasn't been a transfer whether loan or permanent, of players from the two countries in questions. Thus far, Malaysian clubs have gone for Singaporeans as well as Cambodians. While Thai clubs have opted for Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesian players.
Why is that the case?
Goal Thailand team came up with the theory that current Thai clubs are still testing water with the new ruling and as such are not willing to take high risk with their transfer targets. The reasoning for that is that Malaysian players that would improve their squads are on relatively higher wages and that the economic calculations simply doesn't make sense for them.
They are also of the opinion that because Thailand still see Malaysia as one of their rivals and in order to maintain the competitive edge over their southern counterpart.
The reasoning from the Malaysian clubs' perspective would not be following the school of thought. It is generally accepted that the Thai League is one that is at the moment, still significantly higher quality than the Malaysia League.
As such, the local clubs feels that they are unable to attract the very best of Thai players, who would be more inclined for oversea adventures in countries like Japan, South Korea or China.To that effect, we've all seen the likes of Chanatip Songkrasin and Teerasil Dangda moving to the J-League.
The other top players who haven't got such opportunities, tend to prefer to stay with their respective Thai clubs considering their current participation in the AFC Champions League.
Which would leave Malaysian clubs with the options of "second-rate" Thai players. The choice between signing those players who at least from a footballing technical standpoint, isn't head and shoulders better than local Malaysian players - makes it less of a conundrum.
Perhaps the landscape will be completely different with each passing year as clubs from both countries begin to get to grips with the new ruling.
What is undeniable though is that there are sufficient interest and love of the game in both countries to rise to be the next big league in the Asian region. In the east side of Asia, beyond the J-League, Korean League and the Chinese Super League - these two smaller Southeast Asian countries remained the closest challenger to that elite group.
Perhaps one day, it would be such a normal occurrence that Southeast Asian players moving between the region will no longer be considered an import and both leagues would benefit hugely from it.