“Rizal, can you get feedback from the media guys, Eric (Samuel of the Star), Chris (Raj of NST) and Khawari (Isa of BH)…tell me what they think and what they want ahead of the council meeting. What they think about the foreign players specifically.”
The individual on the opposite end of the phone was YB Khairy Jamaluddin, the FA of Malaysia deputy president and Member of Parliament of Rembau. I was then a part-time media officer for FAM, a stint that lasted for a mere two months. Placing the call was one of Khairy’s aides, Tengku Zuhri Aziz, the deputy director of Akademi Pemuda and now Malay Mail columnist.
It was understandable that Khairy was so anxious to get things right and for him to be updated on the journalistic grapevine for looming on the horizons was a crucial FAM Council meeting he was about to chair.
Sultan of Pahang was indisposed. So too was the other deputy president, Datuk Redzuan Sheikh Ahmad. Khairy knew earlier he had to step into the breach, and he did it with ease.
In his opening remarks, Khairy touched on the need for FAM to be consistent in determining their policies, adding that the Press would not want a Council that flip-flops (he did not use the term).
In that meeting that took place at the Millennium Hotel on my birthday (imagine having to work on a Saturday), the Council decided to do away with foreign players for the 2009 season.
Although Khairy was in favour of retaining the quota, the rest of the Council members were not. In fact the issue was already discussed and deliberated at length at the competitions committee level and they wanted the Council to endorse it.
A Kedah FA representative too said aye to the idea, saying that the state association were financially burdened with the huge salaries of their foreign trio, Marlon James, Bernard Huggins and Nelson San Martin.
The decision drew ire from all quarters. Chris, Eric and Khawari too were against the idea of banning foreign players altogether but Khairy understood majority rules. And the FAM Council is a different ball game as opposed to the Pemuda Umno.
Khairy was powerless to stem the tide. But as the team manager of the national team manager, Khairy was known to be a problem-solver.
National coach B Sathianathan has nothing but good words for Khairy.
“Never once did Khairy interfered in the coaching aspects or team selection. He fully understood his role as a trouble-shooter and a motivator. The way he spoke to the players reflected his knowledge of the game. The players liked him and gave him due respect. He made sure I was not taxed with problems. If there were any, Khairy was quick to provide a solution,” said Sathianathan.
For those who dealt with him directly, they felt Khairy was open to ideas and often allowed the experts or relevant individuals to make key decisions.
But click on the rewind button to 2006, my impression of Khairy was that he was an obnoxious bloke who used his position as the Prime Minister’s son-in-law to further his interests. To be continued…
Next: The day KJ made the phone call to the Malay Mail…