March 27, 2017.
Recollections & Reflections – A weekly column by Aziz Hassan
IT is something long-suffering supporters of the Malaysian football team have been waiting for and after over 30 years of being headed by the Pahang royal family, the Football Association of Malaysia has another royalty as its president.
Expectations are high that Johor’s Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, more popular referred to as Tunku Mahkota Johor or TMJ, will be the catalyst to bring about the change that will in turn bring the glory to Malaysian football.
One reason is that the TMJ has been a staunch critic of the FAM and because of that people expect him to do much better.
As owner of the Johor Darul Takzim team, TMJ has scored some successes within only four years. Having money helps and having control of one club is, of course, entirely different from managing the sport at the national level, with so many teams and officials to deal with.
Ideally, for a national team to work well, the states have to be on the same page because the states are the productions lines.
It is for this reason that the coaches and selectors for the world champion All Blacks work closely with coaches of the country’s five Super Rugby franchises because it is with the franchises that those in the reckoning for national selection first play for.
One oft heard story then was how those in the executive committee didn’t have the guts to speak out, for understandable reasons, considering who sat at the top. We have to wait to see if it’ll be different from now.
Having gone this low and often struggling to beat the likes of Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, there is no other way to go except up.
Hell, we even went down once to Laos, a not too developed country with about seven million people and tucked in the far northeastern corner of Asean.
Malaysians above 55 years often reminisce about the good old days when Malaysia had the better of South Korea and Japan plus a few of the best from the Middle-east. But while the two Asian countries, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have all gone on to play in the World Cup, we remain in the backwaters of Southeast-Asia, let alone Asia.
Since the last success in 1980, Malaysia has not come anywhere close to qualifying for the Olympics.
So what is wrong with Malaysia football? Some say a lot while others say just about everything.
One state I know hasn’t had its league for many years now and because of that has to recruit players beyond its borders. The information is that it’s a similar story in many states.
Development programmes involving age-group have been at best ad-hoc, with competitions, if any, played more carnival-style rather than over a prolonged period.
When was the last time you read press reports about the league in Selangor or Kuala Lumpur? And how many leading teams in these two states can you recall off hand, the way the older generation used to talk about PKNS, Hong Chin or MCIS?
Within the national set-up, the FAM did have academies in some states, only for a story to break out about the amateurish way these were managed.
So-called academies they were, without a proper building for an office or a training ground of its own. In one state the players were put in in a couple of terrace houses within a public residential area, free to do what they wanted. There was no supervision, no rules to speak of. Eventually it was discovered that the FAM was spending something RM6 million a year for this and this was about 20 years ago. It was simply money down the drain.
Before that news report, not many in the country knew the academies even existed.
Then there was the infamous corruption issue of the mid-90s but those in the know can tell you that a few of those known to be involved but against whom no substantial evidence could be found to take them to court are still involved in the sport one way or another today. The other reason these few escaped punishment was that they were shielded by a VIP.
The issues are too many to talk about here but another factor that does have an effect on how far we go in sports in today’s world is our own mentality and attitude towards professional sports.
How many of the world’s top footballers get there while also concentrating to get good grades in schools? The root of the matter is you can’t hope to be a fulltime professional at the top level, competing internationally and all that, while also hoping to earn straight As.
It is almost unheard of in football, where kids start very young to catch the eyes of scouts working for the biggest clubs. Clubs like Barcelona or Real Madrid recruit boys as young as 12, younger even.
This is where the National Football Development Programme which was launched in 2013 under the initiative of Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin may fall short of its ideals.
TMJ will have to deal with a lot on his plate.