Friday, October 23, 2015

Even the Philippines are puzzled


Level Field

It was an embarrassing trip to the Philippines last week for me as Malaysian football’s current poor standing kept cropping up in conversations.
I was in Bacolod City – not only the Land of Smiles but also a football city – for a week and having had close ties with the football circle there for almost 25 years, I was bombarded with questions over Malaysia’s slide in ranking.
The Philippines is way above Malaysia in FIFA ranking, placed 134 to our 171!
In 1993, Malaysia was ranked 79 while the Philippines was 163.
In current Asian ranking, the Philippines is 18 and Malaysia 32. In between are Thailand (20), Vietnam (22), Singapore (27), Myanmar (29) and Timor Leste (31).
Asia’s top-ranked team is Iran followed by South Korea, Japan and Australia.
“What’s wrong with Malaysian football? Football is the No 1 sport in your country unlike in Philippines where basketball is the top sport. Besides, Malaysia has a strong tradition in the game and went professional long before we did,” remarked former Philippines FA and Negros Occidental Football Association president Ricardo Tan.
I was lost for an answer, though I did say we were going through a rough patch and will rise again.
“But how can your ranking drop so badly? I remember when a club side (The Malay Mail FC) could beat the Philippines national team. What has happened?” Tan kept asking.
As much as I tried to explain the Malaysian football situation back home, he kept shaking his head in disbelief.
It was no different with many other football officials and supporters of the Malaysian team. “I cannot believe what is happening to Malaysia. They were my favourite team. They had so many talented players,” said Joemarie Abello, a liaison officer for the Malaysian team when they played in the 2005 SEA Games in Bacolod.
The Malay Mail FC, who have had ties with Philippines football since 1991, defeated their national team 1-0 in the inaugural President’s Cup that year.
The newspaper team competed as the Kuala Lumpur FA Dunhill League champion in 1991 after former FA of Malaysia secretary, Datuk Paul Mony, passed on an invitation from the Philippines FA to the club team.

The city team with a few guest players from the Kuala Lumpur FA back-up team, like Nazim Din, the late Tommy Chong Kok Min, Badrul Isham Jalil, the late R. Ramachandran and Badrulsham Ahmad, reached the final only to lose to Chinese Taipei in a penalty shoot-out.
En route to the finals, the Malay Mail FC defeated the Cambodian and Philippines national teams.
Then, in a friendly match in Kuala Lumpur, when the Philippines national team had come down for a ten-day training-cum-practice match stint in preparation for the SEA Games, the Malay Mail FC defeated the visitors 4-2.
In the SEA Games in Manila in 1991, the Malaysian national team, coached by Rahim Abdullah and Bakri Ibni, had the dubious honour of losing by a solitary goal scored by Norman Fegideros, who became an overnight national hero. It is worth noting that the Philippines team was coached by former Kuala Lumpur coach, German Eckhard Krautzun. Malaysia were eliminated from a semi-final berth while the Philippines qualified for the semi-finals and lost to finish fourth.
Many had dismissed that defeat as one of those things in football, but looking back, maybe that was an early sign of the fate of Malaysian football in the future.
Of course, Philippines have suddenly emerged as a football power in Asean, thanks to their policy to bring back players from overseas who are of mixed parentage in the last ten years.
The policy has indeed proved very successful since they introduced the likes of English-Filipino brothers James and Phil Younghusband in the 2006 SEA Games.
Now, half the team comprises players of mixed-parentage from Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, Austria, China, Iran, Germany and Denmark.
When I pointed out that the “imported” players had strengthened the current Philippines team, Tan said: “Yes, we had to do it because we are of one race – Filipinos. But Malaysia has the advantage of several races, mixed parentage among these races, various ethnic groups. Malaysia does not have to import players. They have all of them in Malaysia. It is a matter of looking for them.”
Tan has a point there, which, of course, has been mentioned many times before but completely ignored by the football authorities.
The Malaysian football team is not a Truly Malaysia team.
These days, we too have several players of mixed parentage from abroad. The question is, were they picked for their talent or because they look Caucasian and are better built? Are we settling for second or third-rated players out of sheer desperation?
Surely, from Malaysia’s close to 30 million people, we can find 100 good footballers with the talent and right attitude?
Let us start combing Malaysia for talent that is surely waiting to be found and nurtured and save us the embarrassment of being looked down on by the rest of Asean.

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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