Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Exclusive - Sathia speaks
Love him or hate him, B. Sathianathan will go down the annals of Malaysian football for his famous, or infamous quote “M-League is not football” moments after his team were crushed 5-0 by the United Arab Emirates in the opening pre-Asian Cup clash in January. The Perak-born coach, certainly one of the most qualified coaches in the country based on his CV alone, shares his thoughts with the Loose Cannon.
Loose cannon: How are you, coach?
B. Sathianathan: I’m fine. As you know I’m on my way out.
LC: Do you think this was because of your outburst during the post-match Press conference or because of the team’s performance?
BS: I don’t know but maybe a combination of both factors. But I realised there has always been an attempt to get rid of me, even before the Suzuki Cup. Some suggest that I am an arrogant coach.
LC: Will your exit provide a solution to our ills?
BS: No, I don’t think so but in the event that my successor enjoys a greater degree of success, all the best but we must continue looking at the bigger picture and try to find a solution, the answers to our woes.
LC: What’s next?
BS: I’m mulling over a few options.
LC: I’ve clearly stated following the Suzuki Cup’s failure that you should have been sacked. FAM did not but waited for the outcome of the UAE match, where your remarks probably expedited your exit.
BS: I’m a professional coach so I’ve learned to live with criticism. I know my remarks have hurt many people but to me I have to tell the truth. I am not a super coach but I know what is best for our football, having been involved in the national set-up from the various age categories right up to the senior team for almost two decades. I did this for the love of my country. I just cannot warm my seat and earn easy money. To me if the national Under-19 team can beat the Super League leaders 2-0 in a Cup tie, it proved my point.
LC: What is your point?
BS: That the M-League has not produced the right kind of products. The environment is not conducive for professional football to prosper. Let’s take the fitness level for example. We have discussed this numerous times, even during the days of Hatem Souissi in the mid-90s when fitness trainer Sasha Bozenko had to adjust the training regime accordingly to allow the players to regain their optimum level. We had to conduct this each time the players report for centralised duty when in fact we should be concentrating on the tactical aspects of the match. Whose job is it to make sure the players are fit? Whose job is it to make sure the players are taught the basics of the game early? The national coach or the grassroots coach or the coach at the State teams or the clubs? I’m sure you remember how Claude Le Roy used to teach some of the experienced defenders how to shield the ball and mark the opposing striker by positioning their body on the right angle. Imagine to my horror five days before the UAE match only three players passed the fitness test. It was purposely done by a third party so that they cannot accuse me of lying and whining without a good reason. And I've yet to touch on other aspects.
LC: Let’s touch on them.
BS: No, let’s wait for my report. I’m submitting a thorough report since I have been asked to explain my remarks to the FAM Council. If they decide to make it public, so be it.
LC: That would be very interesting. But I sense that our biggest weakness is that we are not receptive to criticism. Constructive criticisms are not taken in the right spirit.
BS: You said it, but the most important principle of learning is to be able to accept criticism and take them by your stride, rectify your mistakes if there are any and hope that you learn from your mistakes.
LC: There have been criticisms as to your choice of players, that you practised favouritism and that FAM have a certain quota of players from a certain ethnic background to form the national team. Though I personally believe that is hogwash, I need to ask you this. There have been suggestions of this nature among commenters in this blog as well.
BS: This is not new. In fact just after the Suzuki Cup, there was a gathering of former players and they pointed out to me the number of non-Malays in the national team has dwindled. It is as if FAM is racial in selecting the players. They claimed those days we had Arumugam, Santokh, Chin Aun, Choon Wah, a good mix of players from our diverse background. Of course I was angered by such suggestions. Hey, I’m a professional coach. My job is to win. Nobody in his right mind would want to lose a game. Naturally I pick the best players for the job regardless of race and religion. You have been following the game for many years and tell me how many non-Malays have we picked…remember the large pool of talent for the 1997 World Youth Cup, we had the likes of Chia Ching Kar, Lim Chan Yew, M. Gopalan, M. Elangoo, S. Jayaprakash, Chow Chee Weng? Slightly before them, there was Lee Thean Ewe, Ong Kim Swee, Chong Kim Boon, Chong King Kong, Yap Wai Loon. Who was the skipper for the 97 generation? Gopalan. Over the years we had utilised players like Chan Wing Hoong, V. Thirumurugan, K. Nanthakumar, S. Subramaniam as crucial members of the set-up. Some like Victor Andrag from Kedah is not interested in wearing the national colours. Some players are not up to the mark in terms of tactical discipline or they are injury-prone or past their prime. Since we are on the subject, we might want to investigate why non-Malay players with the potential to make the grade do not pursue a career in the game. They would rather earn a living doing something else, or venture into other professions or simply focus on academic pursuits.
LC: Whatever it is coach, most of the players I spoke to hold you in high regard. They say you respect them as professionals and you have the tactical knowledge but results were not forthcoming, unfortunately.
BS: Yes, but it's too late now. One has to move on.