This Letter was first published in the New Straits Times somewhere in July 2001.
Over the last decade, Malaysian Soccer has seen a slump in performance owing to many factors which are some natural and some self inflicted, the second factor being more prominent.
Our own M-Leaque, modelled after the Japanese J-League was quite a success when it started especially when foreign players turned out for almost all the state teams. The presence of Singapore and Brunei only made the leaque more merrier. Singapore, especially, draws huge crowd whenever they play in malaysian states and who can forget the lion's very own 'Kallang Roar'. Droves of Singaporean fans also travels to malaysian states to watch and support their team especially when they are playing arch rivals Selangor and Johor.
The stadiums were always full and even small cities are congested during the M-League match days.
The crackdown of bribery, the ouster of Singapore from the M-League and the departure of foreign players in the mid 90s has made M-League uninteresting prompting fans to stay away from the stadiums. Even live telecast of matches has seen lower viewership. Back in 80s and early 90s, enthusiastic fans would be always waiting till match hours to check whether there are any live telecast, which are always kept a secret until the last minute.
Stadiums are now empty and only the top teams are capable of drawing big crowds but not as huge as before when the foreign players turned out for all teams.
The FAM seems to made a big blunder by stopping the teams from enggaging foreign players.
Malaysia seems to be the only country where their national football association felt that having foreign players in the league was bad. The decision was taken at the same time as UEFA decided to allow players from eroupean union (EU) free to play in any clubs in europe without restictions. Only players from outside of Europe are considered as foreign players.
The real problem faced by the malaysian soccer is the management of the game and lack of consistency and direction from the authority of the game, the FAM.
The FAM is seen to be always changing their plans and also rules and this unpredictable decision making process has led to lack of direction and inability of place long term programs to improve the state of soccer.
The presence of politicians in the FAM and the state football associations has made the situation worse. The politicians, some who hardly have kicked a ball always interferes in the planning and coaching of the teams and always jostles for posts and publicity. It is no secret that these politicians are ever present in almost all state FAs to meet their political agenda. There is no enthusiasm or honesty in them to help improve the standard of soccer in the country.
The lack of knowledge, passion for soccer combined with their political agenda results in poor management of the state associations and also state academies.
Hardly any of the state teams have enough funds to sustain on the own and depends on FAM grants every other year to compete in the M-League. Often the grants given by the FAM are mismanaged and usually not much is spent on youth development resulting in poor quality players turning out for state teams year after year.
These factors coupled with the lack of will by the FAM to taken stern action over mismanagement of state FAs has resulted in poor and sometime shameful performance of the national team.
It is now time to act. The FAM has to do something to correct the situation. The state FAs needs to be scrutinised and probably a professional advisor needs to be attached to state FAs so that their activities, management of academies and also funds are always scrutinised and not be subject of abuse by the state FAs.
The M-League needs to be rejunavated. The inclusion of foreign players is very much welcomed. The youngsters will definitely gain much by playing against the much bigger and skillful foreigners.
The FAM should also think hard on the sponsorship of the M-League. There are many companies out there who are willing to sponsor the state teams and also the league in whole but the the current sponsor's overwhelming presence is seen to be a drawback. Nobody would want to sponsor any teams if three quater of the stadiums are filled with billbords advertising only one particular sponsor.
The same applies when all team jerseys carries the same sponsor's logo. The FAM should take cue from the English Premier League where the main sponsor of the Premier Leaque is not forced upon to be advertised by the premier one clubs and only a certain portion of stadiums are filled with billboards from the main sponsor.
The FAM should also consider inviting Singapore back to M-League. Since now Singapore has their own S-League, FAM should consider proposing the merger of these two small leagues. This could lead to a bigger league and of course more matches all year round. Other proffesional leagues have players competing up to 60 - 80 matches a year. In both M-League and S-League players compete in only about 60 matches a year.
If this materialises, then sponsors from both Singapore and Malaysia will definitely come forward to sponsor and benefit from advertising to a bigger and broader audience. More matches also means more advertising opportunity. Teams should be asked to find their own sponsors while funds from the main sponsor should be strictly chanelled towards youth development. Teams who can't find sponsors should not be allowed to play in the league.
FAM should never neglect youth development. With the help of Olympic Council Of Malaysia(OCM), discussion should be held with the education ministry to encourage the game at schools level. Current education system does not allow students to prosper in sports and parents doubts that sports, especially soccer can promise a bright future for their children. This misconception must change.
FAM should take cue from other sports association like Bowling and Squash on their youth development programs. Perhaps a visit or discussion with these successful sports associations will do a lot of good for FAM.
Doing away from politics once in a while. Unfortunately, there are politics in Malaysian Soccer scene too.
RECAP : It has been a good 7 years since I wrote this article but nothing much has changed. FAM allowed foreign players in 2003 and again, in a shocking 'ala Flip Flop Abdullah' move, banned foreign player for next season.
Grass roots development leaves much to be desired. Parents and schools are not much of a help in this 'education first' society. Squash has produced Datuk Nicol Davids while our keglers has maintained their standing as one of the best in the region, if not the world. These are results of long term grass root development.
Bribery made a comeback recently and Malaysia, instead of becoming a soccer power, has now become famous all over the world for high technology match fixing.
FAM did not change much, just that Tengku Abdullah had since resigned from FAM. A well intentioned man, Tengku Abdullah simply couldn't bring about a change to the patronage-politics influenced state FAs.
When Khairy Jamaluddin joined FAM as it's Vice-President (won uncontested), many thought that Malaysian football will receive a boost and perhaps some Oxford inspired strategies to improve the pathetic state of soccer in the country. It was unfortunate that even with Khairy, FAM decided to go backwards with the ban on foreign players.
State FAs are still managed or rather mismanaged by politicians and they are still bent on putting brakes on club sides, which has shown good potential in recent times.
Singapore has seen reasonable success with their league and has done well in international tournaments.
I would still believe that merger of M-League and S-League would bring about benefits to the standard of soccer in both countries and may well be financially viable.