The Malaysian football team’s back-to-back defeats to the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam recently paid put to its hopes of advancing in the qualification for the World Cup. The failure prompted the Johor crown prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim to offer his services to take charge of the national squad.
The former Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president said that he would be able to provide the best facilities and coaches.
“I can’t promise you instant success but I can assure you of improvements,” said Tunku Ismail, who is attributed to the success of the JDT team in the local arena.
Is this the way forward for Malaysian football? If you are looking for instant gratification it may well be the way, but for long term benefits, the game needs a holistic overhaul.
First, just take a pragmatic view of the so-called success of the JDT Team. With strong financial backing the team has been dominating the local football scene. But apart from winning the second tier AFC Cup in 2015, like the national team it has nothing great to shout about at the international arena.
Since Tunku Ismail took over JDT on the eve of the 2016 season, the team has seen a sixth coach taking charge of the team. The number doubles if you take into account from the day he took over as the president of the Johor FA.
While JDT has grown to be the standard bearers of Malaysian football, they have not really delivered beyond the national shores.
And when you also take into consideration that the bulk of the key national team players were from the same very club any notion that somehow the club had unearthed phenomenal talents crumbles quickly.
What more when in their recent three matches at the AFC Champions League, they managed only a single victory, a 1-0 defeat of bottom club Ratchaburi FC.
Just like the failed naturalisation efforts, the FAM handing over the future of the national team to one person is certainly not the way to go. Money is not going to buy success.
Remember Hatem Souissi, who was brought in with much fanfare to prepare the Malaysian Under-19 team for the World Junior Championships in 1997. Millions were spent to ensure success in Malaysia’s first and only appearance at the series. But it ended with the national juniors finishing last in the group, conceding nine goals in three matches and scoring two.
The FAM even tried rebranding their junior squads to Harimau Muda, and then the SEA Games 2017 project team. But the national junior team has not seen success at the Asian level or above. Apart from winning at the Asean level, similar to the senior squad, the juniors have been equally listless at higher level competitions.
The last the national juniors qualified for a major final at the Asian level was way back in 1968, when the team finished runners-up to Burma (now Myanmar).
To say that the FAM does not have the finances to elevate the status of football in Malaysia beyond the shores of Asean is a no-brainer.
Last year, in a year ravaged by the pandemic, the FAM’s operating expenses was RM24, 514, 219 while in 2019 it was at RM44, 477, 913. In 2018 it was even higher at RM 50,118, 519.
The problem with Malaysian football cannot be addressed at the elite level alone and with additional money, it is the entire structure that needs overhaul.
Malaysian football needs more than just a stop-gap measures. If that is what the FAM wants, than by all means they should hand over the reins to the JDT boss.
I remember speaking to a former national coach a long time ago on the then national team players. He did not mince his words with his critic of the national player’s inability with the basic of football.
“I have to blame the states, when the players selected into the national team were not fully fit and have poor basic skills. As a national coach my job is to polish up the team in tactics, but I have to waste precious time in fitness training and polishing up the players individual skills,” he said.
Perhaps, Malaysia has much better prepared players being called up to the national team, but states FAs need to pay more attention to developing the sports instead of just looking at the state teams for the Malaysia Football League (MFL).
The Sports Ministry initiated National Football Development Programme of Malaysia (NFDP) is a long-term plan to promote and develop the sport nationally. It was intended to have two phases: 2014-2020 and 2021-2030 and is funded separately by the Ministry. The NFDP program including the Mokhtar Dahari Football Academy is now directly under the purview of the FAM.
While the first phase has unearthed some talents that are playing in the MFL, it looks like the first phase has not really boosted Malaysian football to the level anticipated as yet.
Maybe Malaysia should take a leaf out of what the Indonesians did with their own failed World cup qualifiers campaign. They decided that their Under-19 players needed the upgrade and promoted seven of their junior players – Adi Satryo, Rizky Ridho, Pratama Arhan, Witan Sulaeman, Genta Alparedo, Saddam Gaffar and Braif Fatari to the senior squad for the qualifiers.
The Malaysian Under-19 players, mostly from the first batch of Mokhtar Dahari Academy, could be elevated to senior ranks with the national team taking the step start from scratch.
After all these players have no chance of qualifying for a junior World Cup following the cancellation of the 2021 Under-20 tournament. FIFA does not organise any U-23 or U-22 World Cup tournaments.
If they are to be the future of Malaysian football, they need to be given the break now.
There are just so many things that the FAM and its affiliates need to do for Malaysian football to wake up from its slumber or is it hibernation.
Looking for stop gap measures and absconding on their own duties as elected administrators of the sports is just not one of them.