So, not too long ago Harimau Malaya got mauled 10 – 0 by the United Arab Emirates. Suddenly, interest in recent marches or political spats have dimmed slightly with the with an official scoreline to underline a form of national embarrassment. You can view the dismal performance on YouTube:
As of 11:12 PM tonight, five articles related to this issue made the top 10 most viewed articles on theStar online, notably more interesting than Alvin Tan or Mukhriz Mahatir.
Of course, there’s plenty of rambling going around on social media, sarcastic insults, memes, calling for peoples heads and so on. The frustration of fans are mostly deserved but is not something that started from the 10 – 0 defeat. It’s a culmination of so many things over a long period of time involving so many people, not just Dollah Salleh.
Firstly, I think most Harimau Malaya fans are well aware that the standard of football we play isn’t enough to win against countries outside ASEAN as of right now. Beyond the AFF Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games, Malaysia doesn’t have a chance to fight for other honours. Before K. Rajagopal was let go, it was already clear that the target was for Malaysia to qualify for the Asian Cup by 2020.
That said, Harimau Malaya hasn’t grown since its last AFF Suzuki Cup win and has been on the decline since that ‘peak’. So, it doesn’t surprise me they drew against Bangladesh although I think that also reflects the lack of quality we have. What’s more frustrating is that in recent times war torn countries such as Iraq and Palestine also beat us by large margins. How’s that possible when we supposedly have better resources and facilities in place?
Personally, I think there are five main factors that have held true over the past few years leading Malaysian football to this point:
- inactive and ineffective FAM management
- lack of player mental toughness
- poor player work ethic
- lack of grassroots development
- lack of quality coaches
Notice, how in those five points, I mention the word ‘lack’ three times. I think that shows that in terms of the crucial resources, we certainly don’t have enough. While not world class, Malaysia does have better physical football infrastructure than Iraq and Palestine.
Quite frankly, nobody has any idea what Football Association Malaysia (FAM) actually does other than make TV deals and ink partnerships that don’t actually result in any specific benefit to Malaysian football. While I’m not a huge fan of JDTs patron, he certainly made valid points about TV revenue distribution. Apart from that, FAM’s poor development of young players led our sports minister to establish the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) led by former Bayern Munich youth coach Lim Teong Kim. Politics and involvement of royalty seem to have ruined FAM.
Players on the other hand, throughout the Super League don’t seem to reflect much of the work ethic and mental toughness of their peers (if I can even call them that) in Europe. There’s really not much to say when I hear stories of training not being taken seriously and eating absolutely anything you want (a huge no-no for any professional athlete). I mean for goodness sake, I have a friend who had an experience eating at a warung when a Super League team came by to have their meal! Mee Goreng for Lionel Messi anyone? You also know that you’re not very mentally strong when someone who is supposedly ‘composed’, i.e. Khairul Fahmi is seen throwing tantrums on the bench (regardless if it is justifiable or not). Its something that’s apparently evident in our badminton as well. You do read a few Malaysian badminton coaches highlighting this exact weakness, which is certainly present in Malaysia’s football fraternity as well.
The other thing is that we seem to have ignored the need to educate players at a young age. The development of young players became an oversight and was only addressed starting a few years back with Harimau Muda and more recently, NFDP. Programs like NFDP could produce quality players in perhaps the next decade, but it certainly came too late for any player currently in Harimau Malaya. They are the product of whatever footballing education they could get when they were younger, which probably was not a lot. Twenty years back, we forgot to think about the next generation.
Even in nurturing the next generation or the current one, you’ve got to have people of calibre to guide them. If the coaches of now (especially Malaysian ex-players) were taught by the poor football education system of the past, how can they be expected to bring todays players to a higher level? This is why the hiring of foreign coaches really do make sense for Malaysian football regardless at the state or national level.
A really great understanding of this is shown during an interview with NFDP head, Lim Teong Kim. Its a really good interview and I think every Malaysian football fan should see it:
Watching Lim Teong Kim’s explanation, you get a good feel of how much baggage Malaysian football carries with it. These are all things that have exerted its influence for decades. Any immediate short term remedies only scrape the surface, not cutting the root of the real problems. It really is a stronghold that’s prevented us from being as good as we can be. After all, history showed us we could take on Korea Republic and make them fear us even.
The current generation of Harimau Malaya may not take us as far as the Olympics or the World Cup, but they can still redeem its reputation as a force in ASEAN and not be a knock over in Asia. There’re two things that are possible for the current generation to do to make things better, (1) improve their work ethic, to seriously work hard and be disciplined about it and (2) to build that resolve, the mental toughness needed to be focused throughout games and not giving up in hopeless situations. All that will be up to the players themselves and managers together with their coaches to make it happen.
That said, there is hope for the next generation of Harimau Malaya. A few days before the UAE game, I was watching videos of the NFDP U-13 team who were unbeaten during a recent playing tour of Germany and even won the Ibercup tournament beating the likes of Bayern Munich and Sporting Lisbon!
That said, it won’t be up to NFDP to save or revive Malaysian football. It will have to be a collective effort across the board, which seems impossible. Still I do believe that people like Lim Teong Kim, Ong Kim Swee and even people like TMJ, KJ, not to mention those forgotten like K Rajagopal are able to make the difference.
It takes people with the right mentality to overcome these strongholds, which are essentially mental in nature to begin with. It won’t all be right tomorrow, maybe not even in five years time. Its hard to undo decades worth of wrong in a year. To overcome is not impossible, but we need to start doing the right things and be patient enough to allow the next generation to grow into the best Harimau Malaya they can be.
I’ll end this one with a video of what hopefully could be an indicator of a brighter future for Malaysian football: