A decade ago, Indonesian fans fed up with the constant infighting within the national governing body and the deplorable state of the game, chose to boycott the sport.
With empty stadiums coupled with government and corporate support mostly withdrawn, the football crazy country saw the game in an absolute doldrum.
While Indonesian football is still working on rebuilding itself, the boycott helped the country to relook on how the game was developed and promoted.
In Malaysia, football has failed to deliver any worthwhile results for decades, and it would probably continue to be the same at least for the near future.
Malaysia’s latest 0-4 defeat to Jordan in a friendly match is just another chapter in this sordid affair.
It seems that all that we are interested in is to win the SEA Games or the AFF Championships to continue crow about the relevance of Malaysian football.
Losing in sports is not something new even among the best of teams. The mighty Brazil’s 0-7 thrashing at the hands of Germany at the 2014 World Cup only saw the team coming back stronger. France failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup but came back to lift the coveted trophy in 2018.
But, Malaysia has constantly failed at the big stage and an occasional victory at the SEA level is exploited to portray that the team was destined for a better future.
The AFF Championships is scheduled for December and once again it any sort of success at the tournament is likely to be used as a shield once again against all the failures of the past years.
Is winning at the lowest level of the international arena, the Key Performance Index (KPI) for Malaysian football?
In the six matches Malaysia has played this year, they have won only one tie, against SEA rivals Thailand by a 1-0 margin. They have lost in all their other matches to Kuwait (4-1), Vietnam (2-1) , Bahrain (2-0), UAE (4-0), and Jordan (4-0).
The national side, once ranked as high as 75, is currently ranked 154. And the 75th ranking was held by Malaysia way back in 1993.
The defeat to Jordan was not unexpected but the manner by which the team succumbed to the defeat must be questioned. It is appalling that whenever we lose to a better team it is said to be a learning experience.
Just how long will this learning experience continue, is not difficult to guess. Malaysian football seems to be stuck in a time-loop, forever stuck in the same class.
The average age of the current Malaysian squad is 26.40, exactly the same as the Spanish team that qualified for the Nations Cup last night. The Malaysian team is not all that young.
Recently, Harimau Malaya coach Tan Cheng Hoe distanced himself from setting a target for the AFF Championships. He picked Vietnam as the group favourites and that Malaysia will need to beat Indonesia to qualify for the semi-finals.
A low bar on an already low level competition.
Both the Vietnamese and the Indonesians have younger squads with the Vietnamese squad averaging 26.09 years and the Indonesians even younger at 23.86. So any excuse that only Malaysia would be fielding an inexperienced and young squad for the AFF Championships should hold no water when the time comes.
The fact is that the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) is the richest sports organisation in the country. It receives millions from both the corporate sector as well as the government itself every year without fail. Many of its officials also receive bigger stipends as compared to full time staffs of most other national sports organisations.
The success rate certainly does not relate to the amount of money channeled into the game.
Accountability for failures also ends with the coaches and players being blamed, while the administrators enjoy invincibility, a shield built over the years with the backing of politicians, VIP’s and corporate head honchos.
There seems to be no exit door in football for failures, just a revolving door to bring you back in. Fail in one department and you are just rebranded and given a different portfolio.
Any success over an opponent, no matter how trivial it may be, is milked to the last drop to depict that we are better than the reality. Hopes of the fans are drummed up to the maximum to ensure that the next match at home sees a capacity stadium.
Gullible fans flock the stadium fill the coffers, but go home disappointed with another insipid display from the home team.
The national side has not qualified for the World Cup since its first participation in the qualifying rounds in 1974 but qualified for the Olympics once in 1980. Since 1964, we have qualified for the AFC Asian Cup only three times, the last in 2007.
Malaysia’s best ever result at the international level is a bronze medal at the 1974 Asian Games.
In two-day’s time Malaysia will take on Uzbekistan, currently ranked 84th, in another friendly match.
No one is expecting the team to win the match, but let us not give false hopes. And let us not make the AFF Championships as the KPI for Malaysian football.
Let us not use failure as an excuse to rope in more naturalised players when you can give the youngsters the opportunity to shine at the senior level.
If the FAM is looking towards building better for tomorrow, than there is no legitimate excuse for them to have cancelled most age-group tournaments, including the M3 League and the President’s Cup during the pandemic. It is already evident that there is a distinct lack of talented players in the senior divisions, but complete focus is being wasted on this group.
Already there is an apparent disconnect between the FAM’s development programmes and the government driven and funded National Football Development Programme (NFDP) and the Akademi Mokhtar Dahari (AMD), which have shown some positive results since their incorporation.
How effective has been the transition of these players into the FAM programmes? It is common knowledge that very few of the players from the NFDP and AMD do make it to the national side, with the exception of a select few.
And now Ministry of Youth and Sports plans to start yet another competitive football league focusing on the involvement of very young talents at the grassroots level.
Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu said the matter was being refined and could be considered an effort to produce more quality players as a talent pool for the national football squad in the future.
Will this be another exercise in futility? Spending public money on yet another programme that the FAM would treat with indifference just as it does with the NFDP and the AMD.