No quick fix to rocky path
Friday, September 20, 2013 - The Malay Mail
Congratulations to Harimau Muda coach Ong Kim Swee for his team’s success in the Merdeka tournament last week. But like Ong said, his players should not be overconfident.
Except for Myanmar, who fielded their Under-23 team, who Malaysia beat in the preliminary round and final, Thailand and Singapore had fielded understrength teams.
So when officials say the Harimau Muda team can beat the national team, that is going too far.
Let’s not forget that the Harimau Muda team had players from the national team — Mohd Fadhli Shas, K. Rueben, Wan Zack Haikal, Nik Mohd Shahrul Azim, Muhammad Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Putera Nadher Amarhan (Junior) — for the tournament.
Instead of celebrating the fact that Malaysia finally have a strong pool of players, everyone becomes territorial and goes overboard.
Seriously, Malaysia’s run in the Myanmar Sea Games is going to be much tougher.
The draw has not been made yet, but Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and even Cambodia and Myanmar are going to be difficult adversaries for Ong’s team. The coach is definitely aware of this but apparently not the officials and fans. Their hopes have soared and if Ong’s team fails to reach the final, guess who will go from hero to zero overnight? Just look at the reaction to national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal.
The FA of Malaysia are already looking at potential candidates to replace him if the Malaysian team do not qualify for the Asian Cup in Australia in 2015.
Yet, FAM have not assured Rajagobal that he'll get priority to players for the qualifiers unlike Singapore and Thailand who prioritise the national team even for an international ‘A’ match.
Many, including Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, have wondered why the Malaysian team keep getting a bad rap.
It’s because false hopes have resulted in disappointments and lack of vision has seen Malaysian football go nowhere. I should know, having covered Malaysian soccer for more than three decades.
Except for the late 1970s, 80s and early 90s, when there was a decent national team who were feared in the region, things have been on a slippery slope.
Yes, the bribery scandal in 1994 robbed football of more than 100 players, setting Malaysian football further back.
Did we recover from that black episode? Sadly no, because the match-fixing still exists and new talent have not been up to the mark. While the authorities have not come down as hard as they did back then, they say they are on top of things. So why do stories of match-fixing keep surfacing?
Meanwhile, there has been little improvement in the quality of players. In 1962, Malaysia whipped the Philippines 15-1 — a record for the national team.
Today, we are struggling to beat the Philippines. How low can Malaysian soccer standard go?
Even with top French coach Philippe Troussier and 28 other foreign coaches on FAM’s radar, one wonders if there is light at the end of the tunnel for Malaysian football.
The truth is even the world’s best coach cannot change the status of Malaysian football overnight.
We have had Trevor Hartley, Dr Josef Venglos, Allan Harris, Claude le Roy, Hateem Sousi and the late Bertalan Bicskei over the years but we have not achieved a double-digit Fifa ranking (current ranking: 161 and the only time Malaysia were below 100 was in 1993 (79), 1994 (89), 1996 (96) and 1997 (87).
For starters, we do not have quality players for Asian class performance, let alone world class.
Second, with two or three-year contracts, there is only so much foreign coaches can do.
More often than not, they resort to recalling former national players as they cannot afford to work with younger players and wait for success. With their reputation at stake, they will seek a quick fix by recruiting experienced players.
They may see instant results, but what happens when they leave? We are back to square one as the senior players would be two or three years older and we have to resort to younger players — who would have lost two good years of development.
The only way for Malaysian football to rise is to have a five-year plan at least and work with the existing players. And don’t expect instant results. Patience is the keyword here.
There should also be no interference from those who have no technical knowledge of the game.
And everyone in FAM, the state FAs and clubs should have a common goal — to see the national team stand among the best in Asia.
In the meantime, the national football development programme should be in full swing under the guidance of Lim Teong Kim to ensure that we have a steady flow of players from the junior ranks.
All this looks good on paper, but without execution, even the best plans will come to nought.
The ball is now at FAM’s feet.
Score and make it a perfect victory for the future.