Monday, October 10, 2011

Michael's take on Malaysian soccer in Dreamland

Here is a straight from the heart take from Michael on Malaysian soccer. It makes a great deal of sense and is the truth about Malaysian soccer. But is anyone going to pay any heed! Everyone has their own agenda expect the Malaysian soccer agenda. We had a foreigner here who was suppose to have charted the Malaysian soccer road map! He charted it alright - the way down!
It is sad who we get fooled time and again, with all the shortcuts and promises. There is no shortcut to the way to up, but sheer hard work, proper development programmes, calibre coaches to handle the programes, wide spread programmes throughout the country, paying attention to schools soccer and a long time vision - not short term.
Do we have the patience and discipline to see it through? Very unlikely, as we continue to look for shortcuts and continue to dream that a miracle will happen to Malaysian soccer. Continue dreaming. Many joined in the bandwagon to criticise the Malaysian team for their 5-0 drubbing by Australia and the decision to play a formidable team, including many who were singing praises and glorifying the national team recently. Nothing new here, because they just refuse to accept the fact that Malaysian football is still a long way off from being acclaimed as a power in the region. The knives are not and even the fans will be turning their back soon. Have we not seen this happen before! Let us carry on with the merry-go-round and heading to no particular destination! That is Malaysian football for you!

Read Michael's views below. He makes more sense than most of our soccer officials who are charting Malaysia's soccer path.

Dear Tony,

Thank you for highlighting my comments a few months ago.  Here, am sorry for this very long piece but I feel I must get it out of my chest (and brain)!

I have long stopped dreaming about Malaysia doing well in football whether regionally or internationally.  Do read page 54 of Oct 2011 issue of Four Four Two (“FFT’) – everyone connected to football in Malaysia, whether a supporter, player, coach or administrator should read it.  I will not produce extracts of it here but suffice to say that the problems that England is currently facing are the same ones Malaysian football is having.  At least England is doing something about their problems.  Can I say the same for Malaysia?

You rightly wrote in identifying what is needed to elevate Malaysian football standards – hard work, development programmes, quality coaches, schools soccer, available fields, strong leagues, foreign playing stints, long term plans and focus.  These are all well and good, however without identifying the root cause of the problems, it is only as good as treating the symptoms, not the cause.

So here’s my take on what are the problems in Malaysian football:
  1. FAM - Like you said, there are just too many officials who are more interested in the money than the game.  The FAM has to be completely overhauled and revamped.  We need proud and ambitious people up there in FAM who have the burning desire and pride to want to see Malaysian football mengharumkan nama Malaysia every time and everywhere we compete, and not just to make up the numbers.  We want courageous officials who dare to make changes, drastic or subtle ones, to change the way we play the game, think about the game and live for the game.  We want motivators and inspirers whose desire is to challenge those around them to do better at what they do whether they’re players or coaches or administrators, even if they’re already the best.  We want football leaders who can lead and show us the way to play better and more competitively by searching, looking and sourcing for the best systems, methods and processes in football.  We want an FAM that has the pride, ambition, ability, commitment and willingness to lead the country’s football to great heights. 

We need FAM to come out with our own Malaysian style of football, just like what Spain is doing.  In fact, why not copy Spain lock, stock and barrel?  The Malaysian players’ physique is very similar to Spanish players – David Villa, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, David Silva are not muscular or tall.  Furthermore, our Malaysian players are naturally agile, fast, mobile and skilful.  Has the FAM ever studied styles of play of other countries to ascertain if we could use any of them, whether individually or in a combined form?  Has the FAM ever organized study groups to visit Spain, Switzerland, Mexico, France, Germany, to name a few, to learn from them?  Has the FAM ever sit down and think and discuss and brainstorm with highly qualified local and foreign football coaches and thinkers and come out with a practical volume of the best style Malaysian footballers should adopt considering our natural physique, climatic conditions, playing fields, etc?  We need to establish our own style and disseminate this to all the FAs and if possible the private football academies which are mushrooming around.  Re-train and re-teach those who are involved in coaching and training youths so that our kids and youths are trained in the proper way, the Malaysian way.  It doesn’t matter what style we choose, whether it’s Spain’s possession football or Germany’s counter attacking style or Ajax’s total football or Vietnam’s fast football or Stoke’s physical approach, as long as those involved in leading Malaysian football has researched and studied and brainstormed and discussed adequately , then we will all follow that style.  We have failed for so many years now, does it hurt to try something totally different?  The FAM is the one who must lead the way in and for Malaysian football.

  1. Academies & coaches – at the kids and youth levels, too many of our coaches are focused on results rather than development.  Because of this, young players are coached to win at all costs rather than to improve and develop as all-round players.  A coach aiming to win will likely to recruit taller and bigger players and focus more on shooting, fitness, teamwork, and tactics.  However, a coach whose focus is to develop all-round players will emphasise more on technical skills - being comfortable with the ball, ball possession, ball control, passing and receiving, dribbling, using both feet, and then raising the technical bar levels progressively as the players advance.  This technical development work takes years and years to achieve results and because of this, many coaches prefer to take the short cut way.  This might carry you through and make the coach and team look good but it is only in the short term and temporary.  The real effect is seen and felt at 2 stages: (i) when these kids become older, they will struggle to stand out as players because whatever advantage they had when younger for eg size or speed, would be nullified as their competing peers and opponents will eventually catch up with them; (ii) when we compete in regional and international youth tournaments, foreign teams with superior technical skills generally will do well.
Coaches who focus mainly on results do so because they want to win admirers of  supporters, fans and parents, be well employable, get funding and sponsors, and recruit more kid and youth trainees for their clubs and academies but they don’t realize that they do this at the detriment of the players and the game.  The players will eventually turn out to be average ones, only able to compete domestically.

I would like to add 2 things to what you mentioned about quality coaches – quantity and continuing personal development.  FFT said the European countries (except England) has 20,000 to 30,000 qualified coaches with Pro, A and B licences.  How many does Malaysia have?  300? 500?  Surely there must be a correlation between the no. of qualified coaches and the level of football in a country?  With 500 coaches, can Malaysia even dream to qualify for the World Cup? 
As for continuing personal development , most coaches do not see the need to develop themselves.  Whether a coach is employed or coaches on a volunteer basis, he owes it to the players and the game to improve himself so as to be able to coach them to the best of his ability.  A coach has to keep himself abreast of the latest developments in football by reading books, attending courses and surfing the Net.  I don’t see this happening on a large scale in Malaysia.  Most coaches coach only based on their past playing and training experiences.  They do not learn of new methods of playing and coaching which involves the 4 main aspects of coaching – technical, tactical, physical and psychosocial.  World football styles have evolved over the years and so coaches should do so if they want to contribute to football.
Personally, I have been coaching some youngsters in my hometown for the past 5 years on a voluntary basis.  Of late, I have been doing it 2-3 times a week.  I provide the balls, the cones, the jerseys, I organize friendly matches, provide food and drinks for the game, become a driver to the players for training and games, pay for the field and referees’ fees.  I estimate I have spent about RM5,000-10,000 on these boys during these 5 years.  I have books on youth football coaching and I surf the Net regularly to learn more about coaching.  I observe other coaching and training sessions to learn more.  My knees are damaged and they hurt most times after playing with the boys but my passion and love for the game is stronger than the pain and so I play on and I coach on.  I can understand if other coaches are not as free or financially able as I am but at the very least, coaches should have the passion for the game to give something back to the youths and make them better footballers.
  1. School Fields – as we are all aware, public fields have been decreasing in numbers over the years to pave way for developments and more developments.  There is a lack of playing fields for the many footballers out there especially in the major cities.  We complain of the lack of fields but stark right in the middle of our noses are the school fields which are currently under utilized especially in the evenings and weekends.  Drive pass any school on a weekend and you see an empty pitch, waiting to be used.  The Govt should make it possible for schools with football fields to open their fields to the public during the weekends, subject to terms and conditions.  I am very sure the public at large and private football academies will welcome this move with open arms.  How can anyone say this will not help to improve Malaysian football.

  1. Education System – go to any football tournaments in the Klang Valley and you will notice a higher participation by younger kids (12 yo and below) as compared to teenagers (13-17 yo).  One of the main reasons why this is so is because of the lack of time available to teenagers for sports.  Tuition and after school classes is a must nowadays for most teenagers as compared to the younger ones.  The sad thing is that these classes are held mainly in the evenings when football is supposed to be played.  How do we expect budding footballers to improve when their playing time is limited?  How good can our footballers be if they only play 2-3 times a week?  As long as our education system remains as it is (incompetent teachers, low standard syllabus, a focus on results rather than learning, etc), football development will not take place.   Children will not have time for football or any sports for that matter.  Messi or Ronaldo didn’t become world class by training twice a week on weekends only.  They trained and played every day.  Because of the way our education system is set up, our children have no choice in this matter.  When their future careers hinge on getting good academic results, can we fault them or their parents for putting so much emphasis on their studies and almost nothing on sports?

  1. State Football Associations – our State FAs are only good at competing in the President Cup and Malaysian League competitions.  They do this by hiring and recruiting youth players from the sports schools, universities and private academies.  They do not have a track record of coaching, training and nurturing young players.  Most of them do not even have youth academies catering to the various youth age groups, unlike the Manchester Uniteds, Arsenals, Chelseas and Liverpools of this world.  Have you ever seen a Selangor U13 side playing in any tournaments?  Or a Kelantan U15?  Most of our state FAs are pathetically managed and run, relying too much on FAM for help.  Some of them are only breaking even financially whilst others are struggling.  Only a few can claim to be financially strong.  .It is sad indeed that after having been around for donkey years, our State FAs have not contributed much towards the development of youth football in Malaysia.

  1. Government – recently, we read of the group of Chinese business tycoons setting up an education trust fund to assist Chinese schools to the tune of a few hundred million RM.  If they can do it for education, why can’t the government do the same for football?  After all, football is our country’s no. 1 sports.  We have been in the doldrums for umpteen years now.  What significant thing has the Govt done for football development in Malaysia?  I am sure the Govt with its vast network can set up a football development fund and source for some rich sponsors similar to the education trust fund.  Use this fund only for football development, not the M-League or other adult competition.  Use the funds and implement the recommendations you made as mentioned in my 2nd paragraph and to whatever that is needed to produce better young footballers in Malaysia.

Because of what I mentioned in 3 and 4 above, the Govt should also ensure that the Sports and Education Ministries work in tandem to develop football in Malaysia.  The Sports Ministry alone can’t do it.  All relevant governmental organizations must cooperate in this. 

  1. Malaysian footballers’ intelligence, or the lack of it – many people fail to realize this but a top, top player must not only be skilful and fit, but also intelligent game-wise.  Look at Datuk Nicol David or Lin Dan.  Look at their faces and you can see that they are highly intelligent game-wise.  On the football field where the coach has little influence on what individual players do with or without the ball, players which possess a higher level of intelligence in applying what they have learned will do much better than one who doesn’t think on the field.  What is football intelligence? It includes knowing at all times what to do with the ball before one receives it; continually assessing any attacking or defending situation and asking yourself, “am I in the best position on the field that I can be?”; looking for, seeing and making use of space; seeing ‘plays’ before they happen; providing passing options to team mates; efficient distribution of the ball; effective use of the ball and contribution to the build-up play; making the right decisions at different areas of the pitch; applying the right technical skill to different situations; assessing opponent’s style, tactics, strengths and weaknesses; knowing which tactics to use at different times; knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, etc.  Are Malaysian top footballers intelligent?  My frank answer is no.  They are quite intelligent but not enough to compete at the very top.  We have too many national footballers whose potential is limited by their lack of natural intelligence.  The games Malaysia played against Japan and Australia exposed this sore problem – players not using their brains to play better football.  Or maybe they are not that intelligent at all.  We need to enlarge our pool of children and youth footballers in the country so that hopefully good quality and highly intelligent footballers may come out of this very large quantity.

  1. Our mindset – how is it that Spain, Australia and Switzerland can produce so many world sports champions although their population sizes are similar to Malaysia?  Spain has 46 million people, Australia 23 million and Switzerland 8 million.  Not only do they produce football champions, but also swimming, tennis, rugby, hockey, squash and basketball stars.  For years now, Australians have produced champions in most of the popular sports.  They have a winning mentality and attitude, and take sports seriously while we Malaysians treat sports as a pastime, doing it mainly to improve our fitness and health.  Champions have no qualms living, training and playing anywhere in the world, so long as doing it will help them become world class players.  But how many Malaysians can claim or dare to do that except for a few.  We Malaysian have a defeatist attitude, prefer to backbite and bring down those who seem to do well, don’t challenge ourselves to do better and go one step further all the time, preferring to relax when they’ve reached the top, preferring to be jaguh kampong.

Champions go into the field knowing what to expect, knowing what to do, knowing what is at stake.  But we Malaysians just tell ourselves, “Never mind la, we will try our best in the match and see how it goes”. 
Most Malaysian parents tell their kids to forget about choosing sports for their careers, but can we really totally blame them?  Being a Chinese myself, I’ve been asked numerous times, “why are there so few Chinese boys playing football nowadays?”  My frank answer is because the money is not there.  The Chinese are pragmatists and so their financial well-being is of utmost importance.  Who would want to earn RM5,000 playing football for a limited 10 years career when they can earn RM10,000 to RM15,000 for a lifetime?  This realization is one factor why lots of teenagers drop their childhood dreams of becoming professional footballers.  It is very sad indeed.  They just settle to become average players, playing in the local leagues whilst losing their dream bit by bit, day by day.
Does our nation have a sports mindset?  I don’t think so.  Sports have taken a backseat now, only existing to provide jobs to players, coaches and administrators.  What then is required for our nation to be rejuvenated to become a strong sports nation like Australia?

Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream….”. I too have my dream on how to improve Malaysian football up a few levels which I have shared with my son in one of our many chats and discussions about football.  However, I shall leave it for now as I have already written so much above. 

Like you said, will that major surgery for Malaysian football ever happen?  Probably not in my lifetime!