Friday, October 14, 2005

Why club sides failed in M-League (14/10/2005 - The Malay Malay)

Publication : MM
Date : 14/10/2005
Headline : Why club sides failed in M-League

IT is with a very heavy heart I have to admit that club-based soccer has
no place in the professional M-League.
Having managed the Kuala Lumpur Malay Mail FC (KLMMFC) - who were the
first club-based team from the Klang Valley to play in Premier Two - from
2000-2002, I was a firm believer that club-based soccer was an
alternative to State-based sides and at worse, thought clubs could
co-exist with State teams.
And my involvement with KLMMFC was not restricted to that short period,
but rather for 15 years - from the time the newspaper team made their
debut in the Kuala Lumpur FA Dunhill League in 1988.
As the team progressed from the local league to the national clubs
league - FAM Cup - and eventually emerge as FAM Cup runners-up in 1999 to
earn their place in the professional league in Premier Two, I honestly
believed there was a place for club sides who worked their way up to be
among the elite teams.
But as KLMMFC bowed out of Malaysian soccer at the end of 2003 after
playing in the FAM Cup - following their relegation to club soccer again
at the end of their third season in Premier Two - I was resigned to the
fact that club soccer was for the mega-ringgit teams only.
KLMMFC, who did not have the luxury of being financed by the newspaper,
had to source for funds from sponsors. This was not an easy task and even
when sponsors were secured, some did not fulfil their obligations.
KLMMFC did not harbour hopes of winning the Premier Two title, as their
goal was different: to be a club where fringe players who had failed to
land contracts with State teams and bigger clubs, had an opportunity to
still play in the "big league".
At the same time, they also wanted to give young budding players the
opportunity to play at a high level.
The newspaper team had many young players who left for better-paying
teams the following season, while some experienced ones used the team as
a "transit" before securing more lucrative contracts.
Some of the club's young players went on to don national colours - R.
Surendran (current) and Mohd Imran Ahmad (former). Several made it to the
national youth teams. This is an achievement which some State-based
teams may not be able to match.
Even coaches hired for the club were either those who did not have such
an opportunity earlier, or were pursuing their university studies or were
friends of the club who wanted to help out.
Although it was made clear to one and all from day one that the club
could not afford to pay hefty salaries and bonuses because they were not
rich, it still boiled down to ringgit and sen at the end of the day.
There were players and coaches who left the club with ill-feelings.
But for so long as KLMMFC existed solely for the passion for the game,
they played their role of a club - being part of the foundation of
soccer development in the country.
With Malacca Telekom, Negri Sembilan Cempaka and Johor FC among the
pioneer club sides to play in Premier Two in the late 90s, and who were
the "rich" teams, followed by sides such as Public Bank, MPPJ and MK
Land, I still felt there was hope for club-based soccer.
Cempaka were the first to opt out three years ago and now, two club
big-wigs - Public Bank and MK Land - have withdrawn after a couple of
years in the top flight.
This only underlines the fact that clubs do not have the financial
clout, which is one reason for their early withdrawal from the M-League.
Lack of fan support could be another reason why these clubs failed to
stay on in the M-League despite their efforts to boost crowd turnouts at
matches. Since Malaysian soccer is State-based traditionally, the income
from gate-collection was minimal.
The clubs' stint in the M-League also depended on who ran the clubs or
their financial backers.
More often than not, when there was a change of guard, so did the
clubs' policies.
Unlike State teams, it is rare to see club sides getting the support of
State Governments.
Clubs themselves have to take the blame because they go overboard with
their big budgets and at times, have been known to spend more than what
the State FAs do in a season.
Soon they could not sustain their big-spending ways and start
accumulating debts or cannot garner the same financial support for the
following season.
The FA of Malaysia too have to accept part of the blame for club-based
soccer failure, for imposing all sorts of conditions on the clubs. These
included a compulsory number of professionals (full working contract
players), minimum wages, and deposits for foreign players, which deprived
the clubs of much-needed management funds.
Lastly, State FAs from the start were against club-based soccer and
instead of assisting their club counterparts, they did everything
possible to "kill" them off.
But now it has been established that club soccer should only be
played at FAM Cup level, State FAs - instead of seeing this as a victory
over clubs - should take a hard look at themselves and realise they are
the sole saviors of Malaysian soccer and buck up to get their act
together to be truly professional in every sense of the word.

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