Malaysian Football – Lessons Learned?

(Malaysian “Spiderman” – The late R Arumugam in action in the 80’s. Picture source: www.malaysiantoday.com.my)

Playing Football Manager 2006 for past few weeks and reading in horror that the Government is going to “spend” RM490 million to build a sports training centre in London prompted this post.

Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman said in Parliament yesterday that it had identified the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre in Brickendonbury, England, as the site for the future high performance sports training centre.

In a written reply to a question from the DAP MP for Ipoh Timur, Lim Kit Siang, she said the sports complex would act as a short-term training centre and a “forward base” for national athletes who would compete in European tournaments.

She said apart from helping Malaysian athletes acclimatize to the weather, it would enable sports officials to have access to the expertise and technology of countries more advanced in sports.

Fine, my dear Sports Minister, it is a good proposal but have you really looked to the reasons why our good athletes failed? Or it because you are just following what Najib had saidlocal professional athletes should emulate World No 1 woman squash player Nicol David by training overseas”? Or is it because you assume that we all know what are the reasons for the failing quality of our athletes and as such, you just go ahead to spend millions of ringgit thinking that the rakyat are dungus as usual? You already screwed up on Karamjit Singh’s issue and it needed Pak Lah to open his mouth to comment on it before you “acted” on it (by the way, what happened to this case, my dear Minister?).

Has anyone really wondered why?

In football for instance, in the 80’s when we had Mokhtar Dahari, R Arumugam and Soh Chin Aun in the national team, did they played in UK or in some foreign land to be a force to be reckon with in Asian football? What is the difference now? Our national football is a big disgrace to Malaysians (losing big time to minnows) but do we need to squarely blame the footballers? Or do we pull up a rope over the officials’ neck and say that they are the guilty ones? It’s funny how our Malaysian politicians often tend to come up with so call “quick but expensive” solutions without proper study made on the causes of failures.

As I said, I have been playing Football Manager 2006 for the past few weeks, primarily managing UK based clubs (Premier League teams, what else?) until one day I was fiddling with the FM 2006’s huge database and noted that they have a database for Malaysia (this was interesting, very interesting indeed).

We all talk only on how bad our Malaysian clubs are doing and in reality do nothing to improve it. We don’t go to the stadium to cheer for the national team or sign up to the team’s fan club. Just a talk of Malaysia trying out for the next World Cup finals would send people to the floor, laughing like they never laughed before. Yes, it is one of the biggest jokes of all and yes, it is that bad. So, looking at the database, I said to myself, let’s manage a Malaysian club and see whether I can turn it around.

I picked the Kuala Lumpur team and we were placed in Group A of the Premier League. After one season, we finished at 3rd place of the Group, something that I would say embarrassing because we were losing most of the time (ya, blame it on the software’s AI). But when I analyze the team’s defeat in preparation for the next season, this is what I realize affecting the quality of footballing (at least in the game):-

1. Malaysian player simply lack the quality. The good ones are the foreign players – the top scorer in my KL team was a foreigner but when I hop over to FAM’s website, it shows that the top 5 goal scorers are also foreigners. So the game is not that far off from reality. Most of them are part-timers (I suppose working in DBKL in the morning), so the quality (despite heavy training schedule shows) is bad. In reality, is the youth sports development is really been managed well and with the right focus?

2. Malaysian player lack the avenue for training. After I “argued” with the team board, only then the training facilities for the youth was finally upgraded. One of the players that I hired was willing join just because the KL training facilities was much better than his own team. But that does not mean it is “ok” to built a training centre in a far away land.

In reality, it is not that bad – most teams have a good training centres right here in Malaysia but then again what is the use of a great training centre if you don’t have the right coaches?

3. Malaysian coaches are lacking in skills. Sometimes I don’t blame them because some of the Malaysian coaches are really good but are hampered by interference by politicians cum team manager. How many of the team managers been sacked as compared to coaches? Go ahead; you can use your fingers.

If you want to groom the local boys, at least get a good foreign coach (who by the way must be crazy enough to come to Malaysia and fight with politician team managers). My KL team simply did not have the cash (they were running in losses) and the coaches that I hired were even worse than me. But finally I managed to get an experienced but retired coach from Hungary (that too was cheap sale). Immediately the skills of the local boys improved somewhat.

4. Malaysian team simply lacks the funds. The highest I have ever spend on transfer fees is RM100,000 and that too was a good striker. The transfer budget for that season was only RM150,000, so I had the remaining RM50,000 for the rest of the team. Sponsorship was lousy and rather pitiful – so, most of the time the teams are running in losses (unless of course you have access to easy money from some local authorities). RM490 million can be a BIG help here.

In a game developed by a European based company, the element of politicians interference and mistakes done by these goons is clearly been left out. All seems to be professional in their respective task in the game but in reality is this is the case?

Fine that the training centre is not limited to football and athletics from various sports can benefit from it. My hope is that the Minister think about the causes before going and blowing away RM490 million on a training centre in a far, far away land.

And if such training centre does becomes a reality, I also hope that there are “sports officials” don’t take the opportunity (in name of sports of course) to take a holiday (aka lawatan sambil belajar) in England. But then again, whom I am kidding here right?

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