More than a decade of covering Malaysian football, I realise any team official worth his salt would be defending his coach and players without hesitation. Although by right his judgement alone is not adequate since he is emotionally involved, he has the inside knowledge and understanding of the whole process.
Our former No 3, Datuk Soh Chin Aun, is no exception. Although rightfully a manager or assistant manager with a technical background like him should submit a comprehensive report on the team's failure at the recent AFF Suzuki Cup, Chin Aun's verbal endorsement was enough to convince FA of Malaysia's bigwigs that B. Sathianathan would have another shot at leading the national team.
I'm surprised that FAM deputy president Datuk Redzuan Sheikh Ahmad failed to remind the national management committee of the things he did as technical chairman in September 2005.
For the committee relied on the technical report prepared by technical adviser Mohamed Bakar before sacking Bertalan Bicskei, only two months before the Manila SEA Games.
FAM's top three salaried staff - general secretary Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad and his two assistants, Rosli Hussein and Noor Kefli Sulong - had to rely on various reports from the technical adviser, Bicskei himself and the three-man panel formed to probe the 7-0 thrashing by Thailand in Bangkok before forming an opinion. But FAM stood accused of pre-meditating the whole affair because the beleaguered body went against the recommendations submitted by the three-man independent panel to probe the 7-0 defeat toThailand in the pre-SEA Games in Bangkok.
The panel comprising the then National Sports Council director of management Datuk Zolkples Embong, sports scientist Prof Ismail Mohd Noor and former coach Khaidir Buyong, wanted Bicskei to spearhead Malaysia's Under-23 challenge in the Manila SEA Games. The panel discovered the only grouse voiced by the 20 players brought to Bangkok was Bicskei was too serious in conducting training and briefing sessions, but other than that they thought highly of the former Lucerne tactician.
Curiously, technical adviser Mohamad Bakar had the gall to hint to Bicskei at the Bangkok Airport the Hungarian's fate was sealed, even before the panel had sat down to interview the relevant parties.
While Mohamad was given the opportunity to influence the technical committee chaired by Redzuan, Bicskei was not called to defend himself. FAM basically had no grounds to reassign Bicskei. FAM's boo-boo then made me wonder whether there was an agenda to create a wall of excuses should, and when, the team failed to land the gold in Manila.
Redzuan's committee failed to consider several factors, by choice or by a sudden attack of amnesia.
First of all Bicskei, who was appointed to the hotseat by the previous FAM secretariat headed by Datuk Dell Akbar Khan and technical director Karl Weigang, never had the chance to parade his best 11 after he succeeded Allan Harris in July 2004. In the Tiger Cup, Bicskei recalled Khalid Jamlus and V. Saravanan besides introducing Mohd Nor Ismail and Mohd Ivan Yussof as Malaysia finished third in the absence of the likes of Hairuddin Omar and IndraPutra Mahayuddin, who were deemed unfit for competition.
His team's preparation for the Islamic Solidarity Games in April was marred by Bicskei's spat with the Pahang and Perak bigwigs, thus denying him key players such as Indra, Hairuddin, K. Nanthakumar, Fadzli Saari, Irwan Fadzli Idrus and Rosdi Talib.
By contrast Sathianathan did not have to fight the local coaches. He has the support of the players. Some would retire from the national set-up if he had been sacked. He has had the time to prepare his team.
I've nothing against Sathianathan, in fact we've forged a relationship ever since he set foot in Wisma FAM as an assistant coach to Richard Bate, if I'm not mistaken.
Granted replacing him now with any world-class coach would not transform our fortunes overnight. But I don't understand on what basis was Sathianathan judged. What was the key performance indicator?
When YB Khairy Jamaluddin was appointed the team manager in February, he said: "I would like to thank Tuanku President Sultan Ahmad Shah for consenting to my appointment as national team manager.
"It's an enormous responsibility and I look forward to working with coach B. Sathianathan. Our target this year is to prepare and succeed at the year-end AFF Championship.
"That will be the key performance indicator for Sathianathan and myself," said Khairy.
Does success mean failing to guide the Under-23 team beyond the group stage in the SEA Games in Korat and later the national team to the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup? I thought the writing was on the wall because the last time we failed to enter the last four in the SEA Games was in 1999, and the only time we failed to qualify for the semis in the AFF Cup was in 1998.
When I quoted Khairy as saying the team's defeat in Korat as "Failure is subjective" in the Malay Mail in December 2007, my boss Mustapha Kamaruddin and my colleagues laughed.
"How can failure is subjective, when you fail, you fail lah!"
I almost fell off my sofa when I heard FAM would form yet another committee to monitor Sathianathan's performance.
FAM could have considered giving Sathianathan two more months (well, I know it is not the norm) and see how the team performs in the pre-Asian Cup.
After all I don't see the team beating Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the Group C qualifiers. In the end, let's just lower our expectations!
Read here and here