Saturday, December 3, 2016


Heading: Forget about becoming world-beaters, focus on the regional goals first 

Sub head: When Malaysia’s hope of boarding the plane to Brazil went up in smokes, the public made a mockery of the FAM’s 1999 aspirations

Personally I do not blame the public for throwing brickbats at the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) for an announcement they made way back in 1999 that, unfortunately for the fat cats at the Wisma FAM, has come back to haunt them.

There were several key decisions made by the FAM technical committee on July 29 that year to be exact.

As a representative of the Malay Mail in charge of covering the FAM beat, I was there along with my colleagues from the mainstream media, rubbing our hands with glee about the prospect of the governing body hitting the headlines – either for the right or wrong reasons – yet again.

Just to jog your memory, among the key decisions made were:

# two referees were to officiate in that year’s Malaysia Cup
# Ronald Smith, the Australian coach who made his name at Sabah, was to handle the national back-up team for the Bangabandhu Independence Cup in Bangladesh the following year
# a fitness licence was to be introduced in 2001 to ensure only players certified fit after a battery of tests were allowed to play in the league;
# and, of course, the most outlandish one had to be the announcement of Malaysia wanting to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2014.

Oh yes, I was there when that dream was shared with the media. Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, deputy president of FAM in 1999, told the media a blueprint was in the process of being drafted and that the national body would be focusing on the cream of the 12-15 years old to develop them as world-beaters.

I recall that it took the media by surprise. Some of us were bemused, others chuckled and scoffed at the idea.

The announcement would have gone viral, to borrow today’s tech-lingo, followed by memes mocking the FAM.

It naturally elicited a negative response. Various quarters argued on mainstream media that a nation that had – and still has – the perennial issue of questionable high-performance track record at all levels should not be suddenly entertaining the idea of participating in the World Cup.

The idea was laughable they said, and they were proven right. Since that fateful day, Malaysia made five attempts at qualifying, to no avail.

It crossed my mind that the FAM were perhaps under pressure to seduce the public with an ambitious project similar to that of the Football Association of Singapore, which made their statement of intent with the Goal 2010 project, a year earlier.

It spawned the Foreign Talent Scheme, which led to the Singapore government granting citizenship to non-Singaporeans.

When Malaysia’s hope of boarding the plane to Brazil in 2014 went up in smokes as early as 2011 with a defeat to, ironically, fierce rivals Singapore, the public made a mockery of the FAM’s 1999 aspirations, with the paper cuttings of the report making their rounds in the Internet.

Two foreign coaches, Allan Harris and Bertalan Bicskei, preceded four local tacticians – B. Sathianathan, Datuk K. Rajagobal, Dollah Salleh and Datuk Ong Kim Swee (to be fair, he was in charge of Malaysia’s solitary win in the latest campaign) – in overseeing Malaysia’s fruitless efforts from 2001 to 2016.

And the players between 12 and 15 years old mooted by Tengku Abdullah in 1999 only had as many as 11 players who eventually lifted the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2010 – Safee Sali, Razman Roslan, Ashaari Shamsuddin, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Amirulhadi Zainal, Sharbinee Alawee, Sabre Mat Abu, Amar Rohidan, Khyril Muhymeen Zambri, Safiq Rahim and S. Kunanlan.

Seventeen years down the road, we have gladly shifted the goal posts. Now we are hyping up the potential of hosting the event, with the powers-that-be floating the idea of co-hosting with Southeast Asian neighbours for the 2034 World Cup.

It suits us to a tee simply because we have become so accustomed to cutting corners, so why not the painless but perhaps expensive of way of hosting the World Cup?

However, instead of doing that, the country should focus on qualifying for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

We stand a chance of qualifying through a process involving minnows in the play-offs and current head coach Ong will have a chance to stamp his own mark with a younger generation. If we cannot qualify for the 2019 showcase on merit, we can forget about becoming world-beaters!

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