Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It's not a secret that Malaysian football, domestic leagues and the national team both, has been in the ditches for so long. Not much can be said when we keep on harping on the exploits of the teams of the 70s even some 40 years on.

I still remember in the early to mid 90s, we had quite a good semi-pro league going. The mercurial foreign players such as the likes of Ervin Boban, Scott Ollerenshaw, Zsolt Bucs & Olubumi (later converted to Abdul Rahman) Adigun complemented the local boys like Hashim Mustapha, Dollah Salleh, Radhi Md Din & Matlan Marjan. Local matches are shown on TV, men actually went to watch the games while those who didn't stayed home to watch them.

What happened between then and now? I guess the popular theory is that after the major match fixing scandal, people just lost the passion and the players who were not affected by the scandal were just not good enough.

And it all went downhill from there. Various plans and initiative were carried out, but we were sliding further and further down the football pecking order. Remember the Olimpik 2000 team? That was an initiative to get future national players more playing time, which failed. Basically the team was crap. A few actually went on to have a long career in football like Khalid Jamlus and Akmal Rizal while the rest faded away.

But you know, these days I'm actually seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Still dim, but it's a light nonetheless. On the domestic front, two things happened. One is the emergence of the Kelantan team as a major force after years of being in the doldrums. Why is this important? Well, this is the only team where home games are ALWAYS packed, and away games would see a sizable away support cheering the team on. What does this have to do with the big picture? Several things. The team now actually have money from the gate collection, and with the team playing so well the supporters splurge on authentic team merchandise which means more money too. With that kind of money, they can attract the best players around. Which also means that the other teams gotta start to buck up and get their act together. Playing in front of a voracious crowd weekly surely would help our boys grow some balls and gain mental toughness too.

Kelantan when on song is a joy to watch, second leg Malaysia Cup tie against Selangor comes into mind when Selangor was demolished despite having the players and the money to match Kelantan. Despite these two teams, Negeri Sembilan is also consistently fighting for silverware on all fronts. I hope next season we'll see a re-emergence of Perak, Pahang, Kedah and the Borneo twins who have been big teams in the past.

The other thing is the raw talent coming through are being handled correctly. Harimau Muda A and B are playing regular football, and unlike Olimpik 2000 these guys are actually good. Then they were also given exposure in the Slovakian league, which sounded like a dud but I am sure helped in some ways. Then you see many players below 25 playing week in and week out for their teams, which can only be good for the future.

Starting with some friendlies, we started to shift gears. In Guangzhou we did very well in my books, despite some dubious officiating in the game against China we made it through to play Iran. And that's with half the team out due to injuries and suspensions. Now we're playing the AFF Suzuki Cup, where after the 1-5 drubbing by Indonesia the wolves came out baying for blood immediately. K. Rajagopal realised his mistake I guess and immediately restored Khairul Fahmi as Malaysia's No. 1. With a much more reliable keeper than Sharbinee, the young back four gained confidence and started playing like they did in Guangzhou. Draw with Thailand and just now a 5-1 thrashing of Laos saw us through to the semis (credit shall also go to Indonesia for being sporting and not just rollover to Thailand).

Of course I'm pretty sure there will still be wolves out there discrediting our performance. They are not world class players yet, sure. We're not the feared team in Asia nor Asean yet, true. But I have faith. It has to start somewhere and I have a niggling feeling that it has started already. It is my belief that in 5 years time this current team we have will have matured enough to be a force to be reckoned with. These same guys will be mid 20s to early 30s then, which should be at the peak of their careers. It's time to start cheering our boys on, and not just ignore pre-game and criticise post-game no matter the result.

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

Current Malaysia squad at the AFF Suzuki Cup
Khairul Fahmi, Sharbinee; Sabre, Faizal Mohd, Asraruddin, Muslim, Fadhli, Razman, Khairul Helmi, Mahali; Safiq, Amar, Khyril, Amirulhadi, Guru, Kuna, Faizal Abu Bakar, Amri; Norshahrul, Safee, Ashaari, Izzaq.