Friday, June 6, 2008
A frank opinion
My friend S. Ramaguru came up with this piece last week. Pic of course courtesy of the Star.
HE was one of the heroes of the Malaysian hockey team who finished fourth in the 1975World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.
And for the last 35 years, A. Francis has made Germany his home and has been involved in coaching and developing the sport in the country.
Francis does not like to discuss Malaysian hockey much but when he does, he pulls no punches. In an interview with Starsport's S. RAMAGURU, Francis gives his opinion on what ails Malaysian hockey.
KUALA LUMPUR: Former international fullback A. Francis sees a lack of concept and structure in Malaysian hockey and unless efforts are made to tackle the problem at the lower age-group level, their ability to challenge for honours at world level will remain elusive.
He said that the current problems could be linked to the aftermath of the 1975 World Cup.
“In 1975, we were fourth in the world. But since then we have not been able to break into the top six and the outings in world-class events often end up in abject failure,” said Francis.
“For me, it is simple. We do not have good players to take over when the stars retire and many of the players coming through ranks are just not good enough.
“Having said this, I must add that there is a lot of talent in Malaysia and in the current national team as well. But the question that begs an answer is why are they not producing the desired results?
“To look for the answers, you need to see if there is any concept in Malaysia's hockey development. The problem lies at the lower age-group and the schools. Unless concerted efforts are put into these areas, the national team will continue to lag behind the top teams in the world.”
Francis stays in the southern German town of Sindelfingen and he works for Mercedes as their hockey coach.
He holds the distinction of being the first Malaysian hockey player to feature in three consecutive Olympics – in Mexico (1968), Munich (1972) and Montreal (1976).
The burly Teluk Intan-born Francis began playing in the German league in 1972 and after five years in the professional game, he took up coaching at the Boblingern Club and started out training 10-year-old boys.
Francis is now an accomplished coach, having worked with players from six years right up to senior level. German international Sascha Reinelt and Oliver Domke, who won two World Cup medals in 2002 and 2004, came through Francis' club development programmes.
“I groomed them from an early age. It was a proud moment for me when they won the World Cup in 2002. But then in Germany, the club system is one of the best and any player wanting to get into the national team must play for a club and also compete in the first division of the Bundesliga (league),” he said.
“Do you know why Germany, Holland and Australia consistently finished among the top four in world tournaments?
“They have good structures where players who come into the national team are finished product with enough experience under their belt.
“By 16, players from clubs should be making their marks with the national juniors. And by 21, he should be in the senior team. Otherwise they can forget about making the grade.”
Francis added that in Malaysia, the clubs only compete in the leagues and they make no effort to develop the players at the lower age-group level.
“It is left to the schools to teach the kids hockey. And tell me, how many former internationals really take up coaching the kids?
“In Germany, Holland, Spain and Australia, you will find almost all former internationals getting involved in development at some level.
“The kids in Europe have good guidance and the skills are properly taught to them. It makes a lot of difference when they get into the national teams. This is not happening in Malaysia and the lack of good players to replace the aging ones is an ongoing problem that has not been solved since 1975.”
Francis turns 60 this year and will retire from his job in Germany at the end of the year.
But that will not stop his involvement in hockey activities and he could move closer to home.
He has gone for interviews with Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau and is looking at their offers to handle the national team.
Perhaps Malaysia could look his way for a coach to help turn around the standard of our teams.