Friday, March 07, 2014 - The Malay Mail
Football has long been the number one sport in many parts of Asia, but it is a different story in the Philippines where basketball steals the limelight. To rejuvenate football in the country, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) undertook a long-term development scheme, choosing not to participate in the qualifying campaign for the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, focusing instead on domestic and regional competitions.
Their rebuilding process culminated in 2008 when the team, under former international Norman Fegidero, came within a whisker of booking their place at the AFC Challenge Cup, a competition tailor-made for the continent's second-tier teams.
But it was for the 2005 Manila Sea Games that the PFF had already started the idea of getting Filipino players based overseas and the first two names were brothers, Phil and James Younghusband — who are still members of the Azkals — as the Philippine football team is known.
Today, two-thirds of the team are players who have foreign blood and while some are still based overseas — in England, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Switzerland — many are back home playing in the United Football League (UFL) inaugurated in 2010.
The Philippines, who played Malaysia to a scoreless draw last Saturday, are ranked 127 in the world as opposed to Malaysia’s 150. “It was not overnight success.
We had to make tough decisions, be patient and focus on what we believed in. And it is wrong to say we bought success because these players are Filipinos and the majority of them are already playing in our league,”
said PFF president Mariano Araneta.
“At the same time, we are seeing more home-based players making the national team through the league.”
For Malaysia, the least of its problems is looking overseas for players of different ethnicity.
We have them right here on our shores — the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and the ethnic groups of Sabah and Sarawak, not to mention the children of interracial marriages.
If the strengths of the different races were moulded into a winning formula — like the Philippines has so cleverly done — Malaysian football could be up there with the best.
In fact, we already did this years ago when Malaysian football teams were a colourful mix — true 1Malaysia teams — and produced results.
Just look at the 1972 Munich Olympics team, the only one to qualify for the Games thus far (we qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics but boycotted the Games). It was multiracial in its composition.
Unlike many other Asian countries, Malaysia has the ingredients for a winning formula and if cleverly mixed, we could produce world beaters.
The Malays are known for their passion, the Chinese for being analytical and the Indians for being industrious.
Combine that with the physique of the Sabahans and Sarawakians and we will have a perfect combination.
While efforts are being made to see a 1Malaysia team at the highest level, it is sad that a good thing we had going for us years ago got lost along the way and sports in general suffered.
Many may not want to accept the truth, but right from school level, our player selection these days is a biased process. That aside, there are many reasons why different sports are dominated by different ethnic groups in this country, but I strongly believe that with everything being fair and equal, there is still a chance to see the best representing the various sports.
Malaysia is known as a nation of different races living harmoniously and I see no reason why this same spirit cannot be transferred to sports.
The Philippines had to go halfway round the world in efforts to elevate its football standards, but here in Malaysia, we have had a solution staring us in the face for decades.
Will it be embraced? I hope so because I had written about this nine years ago and am still waiting for it to happen.
TONY MARIADASS has 35
years of experience in sports
journalism and is passionate
about Malaysian sports. He
can be reached at tmariadass@
gmail.com. Twitter handle: @