Friday, September 4, 2015

Admit the ills and let’s get cured


Level Field

The sooner we admit that Malaysian football is at its lowest point and seriously start looking for remedies that will make a difference, the better for the future of the game.

For far too long, the coaches, administrators and players have been in denial mode, hoping for a miracle, for Malaysian football to suddenly blossom.

When excuse after excuse is given to justify the abysmal performance of our teams, it only underlines how pathetic our officials can get.

Every coach complains that they do not have strikers. 

But what have they done to address the situation? They still support the presence of foreign players in the league, which deprives local players of any chance of exposure in their own league.

Then we have coaches who opine that the M-League is no league at all. Yet they continue to coach in the league, without doing anything to make it better.

Who is to be blamed for this state of affairs? The man on the street?

These coaches blame the poor performance of their teams on hectic schedules, the weather, travelling time, short training sessions, lack of fitness, unavailability of players, injury, players not released, and the list goes on.

International fixtures come out in a four-year cycle. Whose fault is it if we cannot work around them? Teams the world over have hectic fixtures and minimum training for international matches. So, why does only Malaysia have problems?

I was with two veteran international defenders over the weekend and they could not believe the reasons given for Malaysia’s goalless draw against Bangladesh in the friendly match last Saturday.

They could only laugh at this newspaper headline: 

“Bright side to draw.”

“How can there be a bright side to a draw against Bangladesh?” asked one of them.

“This is really embarrassing for Malaysian football. Something drastic has to be done before we sink further.”

It’s time for national coach Dollah Salleh to do some serious thinking.

If memory serves me right, when the national team lost to Laos by a goal and failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the Jakarta Sea Games in 1997, there was a public outcry and calls to disband the team.

But today, the national team and the coaches get away without a whisper of protest.

For a while, between 2009 and 2013, there was hope that Malaysian football would claw its way back to the top but that was soon dashed.

With constant changes to the set-up of the team and the coaches, Malaysian football has been left to grope in the dark.
When in the past the national team comprised 20 to 25 players who played for at least five to six years, the current national team since September 2014 has seen 55 players called up.

Let’s not forget that we have the Harimau Muda A, B, C and D besides the Under-17 team. The sports schools are supposed to be the feeders but have they been doing that?

In short, despite having such a big pool of players, Malaysian football is struggling to give a decent performance. This can only mean that we don’t have the best players. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be struggling against Timor Leste, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, let alone Thailand and Indonesia.
Obviously, we have no chance against Asian giants like Japan, South Korea and China and the Middle East.
On Wednesday night, the national Under-19 team, who received exposure in Croatia and played in the local FAM Cup competition, went down 5-0 to Thailand in the AFF Cup. And these are our future players.
This column was written before Malaysia’s match against United Arab Emirates (UAE) last night in the 2018 World Cup qualifying second round Asian Zone Group A, and every indication is that they will go down by a few goals. Malaysia play Saudi Arabia next at home and it will take a miracle to defeat the Saudis.
Malaysia has qualified only thrice for the group stages of the Asian Cup – 1976, 1980, 2007 – since the tournament was inaugurated in 1956.
The Merdeka tournament, in which teams from South Korea, Japan and Europe competed, is no longer the stronghold of the Malaysian team. The Under-23 team emerged the champions in 2007 and 2013, beating Myanmar.
The Sea Games gold was last won back to back in 2009 and 2011.
Malaysia only has two bronze medals to show from the Asian Games – from the 1962 Jakarta and 1974 Tehran Games.
The plunge in Malaysia’s FIFA ranking, from 79 in 1983 to 168 now, summarises the state of the game in this country.
As long as the FA of Malaysia continue to rely on short-term measures and make constant changes to the direction of the game in this country, state FAs continue to neglect the national team, players treat national call-ups lightly and weak coaches handle the national team, we can resign ourselves to the fact that Malaysian football will languish for a long time to come.
What we need urgently is a long-term plan and no more embarrassment, please.

 TONY MARIADASS is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​​

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