Sunday, December 14, 2008

Do we need foreign expertise?

I wrote an Open Letter to B. Sathianathan upon his appointment as the national coach last year. Note that I mentioned the full list of his predecessors since 1957, 14 of them from foreign land. Do we need another foreign coach to provide us the panacea to our ills? Peter Withe seems cut out for the job not only based on his expertise but also his ability to blend in with the Thai and Indonesian mentality. Come Monday though, the FA of Malaysia may opt to extend Sathia's contract up to a certain point as the pre-Asian Cup kicks off next month and there is little time for any new coach to forge an understanding with his players.

Dear Sathia,

RE: Appointment as the national football team coach

I hope this letter reaches you in great health, my friend.

Allow me to congratulate you on your recent appointment as the new national team head coach. Also, it is still not too late for me to wish you a Happy 50th Merdeka.

The national Under-23 team's Merdeka Tournament victory last week was obviously a perfect gift for the country.

But I'm sure you would, by now, be asking your boys to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground. Winning an invitational tournament against opponents who appeared not to be too interested, with Myanmar the exception, does not give us a reason to rejoice as if we had qualified for the Olympics. You have been in the business long enough to keep things in the proper perspective.

Remember, a few of your boys were jeered by their fellow Malaysians in the much-hyped match against reality TV upstarts MyTeam on May 28, 2006. A year later the same group of players is suddenly hailed as the future of Malaysian football. Ah ..., my friend, this simply shows how fickle this business of football can be.

Your appointment, if I might add, must have come as a surprise to many. As you would readily admit, very few had shown their faith in your ability. One of them is the former FA of Malaysia general secretary, Datuk Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, who gave you the Under-23 hotseat last year.

Your detractors claim you like to hang on to people's coat tails, hiding behind the likes of Josef Herel, M. Karathu, Hatem Souissi and Allan Harris. Your critics pointed out the fact that you had never handled a State team, unlike your predecessors. They say you sought refuge behind the assistant tag. It's time for you to prove them wrong, my friend. Show the world that you are a coach in your own right. You have done so in handling the pre-Olympic side. However the senior team is a different kettle of fish altogether. This is what you have been aiming for, since the moment you became the youngest participant, at the age of 17, to obtain a coaching certificate from Mazlan Hamid in Muar more than three decades ago.

The kampung boy, born in Tanjung Malim and brought up in Panchor near Muar, made good, that is how you like to describe your career path. Not many individuals possess the courage to assume the hotseat, particularly after Norizan Bakar and his men were lynched by the Press and public alike following the disastrous Asian Cup outing. You are the latest in a long line of coaches who had tried to provide immediate answers to our perpetual woes with limited success.

Since 1957, you are the 33rd individual to try your luck as the head coach. The full list reads Neoh Boon Hean, Edwin Dutton, Choo Seng Quee, Otto Westphal, C. De Silva, Peter Velappan, Ghani Minhat, Harold Hassall, Dave McLaren, Jalil Che Din, M. Kuppan, Karl Weigang, Chow Kwai Lam, Mohamed Bakar, M. Chandran, Mohamad Che Su, Frank Lord, Abdullah Mohamad, Georg Knobel, Josef Venglos, Ahmad Shafie, Trevor Hartley, Richard Bate, Rahim Abdullah, Ken Worden, Claude Le Roy, Wan Jamak Wan Hassan, Hatem Souissi, Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, Allan Harris, Bertalan Bicskei and Norizan Bakar.

It is well-documented that Malaysia advanced to the Olympics only on two occasions, first in 1972 under Jalil and eight years later during Weigang's tenure. Malaysia too qualified for the 1976 Asian Cup under Kuppan, and Mohamad Che Su led the squad to the 1980 finals.

Working as a backroom thinker with a number of coaches over the years must surely have broadened your horizons. From Herel and Karathu, you learnt basic organisation and discipline. From Hatem, it was the importance of updating your knowledge, while fitness trainer Aleksandar Bozenko exposed you to a variety of fitness programmes. It was an open secret that for five years you were the one who prepared Harris' team reports. But you treated it as a learning process because you knew the Englishman would impart his knowledge to you for he had the privilege of working intimately with Bernd Schuster (current Real Madrid coach), Gary Lineker, Steve Archibald and Andoni Zubizarreta, among others, when he was Terry Venables' assistant at Barcelona.

The Merdeka Tournament victory naturally is an encouraging sign. However the truth be told, I have personally seen previous national teams with stronger character and better skills. The 1992 Barcelona Babes under Chow Kwai Lam, for instance, boasted of Azman Adnan, Mubin Mokhtar, Salahuddin Che Rose, Yap Wai Loon and Shahrin Majid. Le Roy's 1996 generation was symbolised by Azrul Amri Burhan who would have enjoyed a greater profile if not for the bone-crunching and career-threatening tackle from David Beckham in the Toulon tournament in France in 1995.

I too followed closely the 1997 World Youth Cup squad. Then the team became a test case of sorts, when FAM decided to let them stay together for two years. You realised later that keeping a bunch of teenagers with raging testosterone was a mistake.

Boredom crept in and a group of them rebelled, causing chaos and damage to their condominium. I'm sure that you would agree with me the 2001 generation that came within a whisker of regaining the SEA Games gold medal was a good one. Syamsuri Mustafa, Norhafiz Zamani Misbah, Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli, Nizaruddin Yusof, Shukor Adan, Hairuddin Omar, Kaironnisam Sahabuddin Hussain, Subri Sulong and Irwan Fadzli Idrus went on to don the national jersey.

You have a thankless task ahead of you, my friend. Bahrain awaits you in the World Cup qualifiers in October and the SEA Games in Korat in December will be the ultimate test for you and the team.

Not only you have to keep on reminding your charges not to fall for the trappings of fame and glamour but also continue guiding them technically and tactically. Foremost on your mind would be the results on the pitch. Anything else matters little for the average fan.

In the meantime, you can be assured of my support, my friend. After all you took the trouble to attend my stepmother's humble abode at Kampung Sengkuang, Sri Gading, for my wedding six years ago, accompanied by a busload of the national Under-19 players bound for Johor Bahru. Best wishes, my friend. You need all the luck in the world to succeed.


Rizal Hashim,

In 2006, Sathia was struggling to form a decent side for the pre-Olympics. I wrote this for the Weekend Mail.

WHEN B. Sathianathan assembles his Olympic boys next week, he will bid to shift the weight of history staring him in his face.

The former MPPJ boss is the latest in the virtual procession of coaches bidding to propel Malaysia to Olympic glory.

Since Malaysia's no-show in Moscow'80, foreigners and locals - Frank Lord, Josef Venglos, Chow Kwai Lam, Claude Le Roy, Hatem Souissi and Allan Harris - have all tried and, invariably, run aground, crushed by the overwhelming nature of the task.

The last was Englishman Harris, who spent a major part of his life hanging on to Terry Venables' coat-tails.

Even Venglos, later of Celtic and Aston Villa fame, and Frenchman Le Roy, credited as the brains behind Cameroon's success in the late 80s, could not work their magic here.

German coach Karl Weigang succeeded in the 1980 campaign but Malaysia missed the Moscow Games following the US-led boycott.

So the only coach who had successfully brought Malaysia to the Olympic Games was the late Jalil Che Din who helmed the Munich squad in 1972.

Venglos laid the foundations behind Kuala Lumpur's success in the mid-80s

Georg Knobel (centre), the man who opted to let the great Ajax team to vote for their skipper, thus paving the way for Piet Keizer to succeed Johan Cruyff ahead of the 1973/74 season, marking the end of the latter's reign in Amsterdam

From left Dang Suria Zainurdin, Abu Bakar Atan, loose cannon, Pegguy Luyindula, Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli's parents (Ahmad Rakhli Hassan and Mariam Hashim), Claude Le Roy and Akmal Rizal's younger brother (squatting) shortly after Strasbourg's friendly with the Malaysian side in 2000

Karl Weigang (1977-79, 1980-1981)

Thanks to the incredible generation that boasted the likes of Soh Chin Aun, James Wong, Hassan Sani and Bakri Ibni, Weigang was able to guide Malaysia to the Olympic Games in Moscow. Malaysia did not miss the injured Mokhtar Dahari's marauding runs but instead steamrolled past Japan, the Philippines and Korea to book a ticket to Moscow.

Weigang (left) was on the Sports Ministry's payroll when he helped the national team in 1980. Here he's calling it a truce with Allan Harris, with loose cannon as the peacemaker soon after the German coach was appointed as the FA of Malaysia technical director. Notice the FIFA t-shirt, courtesy of Fariq Rahman who visited the FIFA HQ some years back

Frank Lord (1983-85)

The Englishman brought Malaysia to the Asia-Oceania final round after successfully negotiating the first round in a group that included Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Indonesia and India. But the dream of boarding the plane to Los Angeles was shattered as Malaysia finished fourth in the five-team group comprising Qatar, Japan, Thailand and Iraq.

Josef Venglos (1985-87)

Venglos came with the reputation of having managed Czechoslovakia in the 1982 World Cup, and after laying the foundation for the Kuala Lumpur team that went on to bag the Malaysia Cup three times on the trot, he was described as the nation's saviour. Yet the Olympic dream remained a dream after a 3-2 loss on aggregate against Thailand in the first round.

Chow Kwai Lam (1991-92)

At the helm of the much touted Barcelona Babes, Kwai Lam was appointed mainly following his success in leading KL to three successive Malaysia Cup titles in the mid-80s. Failed miserably but the players went on to don the senior colours.

Claude Le Roy (1994-95)

Using his good office, Le Roy brought his boys to a few stints in France, including the historic appearance in Toulon, but eventually the team found themselves out of depth against China and Singapore. His dream of building a decent side was wrecked by the bribery scandal.

Hatem Souissi (1995-99)

The Tunisian was retained after the World Youth Cup in Malaysia but could not alter the team's fortunes as they succumbed to the Shinji Ono-led Japan and Hong Kong in the qualifiers.

Allan Harris (2001-2004)

Malaysia advanced to the final round of the Asian zone by default after Turkmenistan withdrew due to the SARS outbreak. But the moment Malaysia were drawn with South Korea, Iran and China, Harris knew his days were numbered.

1 comment:

abi said...

brilliant! well written letters man :)