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Friday, January 8, 2010

FAM must go from bottom-up

EVERYONE instinctively knows that constructing a building, no matter how high-tech, should start from the bottom i.e. the foundation.

However, the Youth and Sports Ministry and the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) seem intent on defying convention and logic by completing work on the highest floor and working their way down. Or so it seems when they decided to have a full-time national football team.

It is true that the national football team is the embodiment of the glorious, or inglorious in recent times, measures of the country. Nonetheless, the decision to rectify our football doldrums by having a full-time national team is akin to putting the cart before the horse.

For one, how can a full-time national team arrest the declining interest in the local leagues? Did interest in the local leagues spike when the national under-23 team took the gold in the Sea Games? Were fans, old and new, rushing to the stadiums to catch a local league game? It can be safely said that the answers to all three questions is a “no.”

Look at the strong national football teams of the world now. Almost all of them have strong local leagues from which national players are chosen.

According to Fifa, the top five teams in the world in order are Spain, Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. All these countries have strong local leagues – leagues which are vibrant, strongly supported and, most importantly, churning out talent for the national team.

Even the arguably lesser known Portuguese Liga Sagres and the Netherland’s Eredivisie have currently contributed eight players and 10 players respectively to their respective national teams.

Going back to the glorious days of Malaysian football also demonstrates the importance of a strong and vibrant local league. The likes of Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, R. Arumugam were all plying their trade in the local league. This was when fan interest was at its highest and community support for grassroots football was strong.

However, something went wrong, the league took a tumble and along with it, the once great and feared Tigers are no longer.

Thus, the Government and FAM’s decision to favour a full-time national team should not even be in the making. Sports Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek was reported to have said that African countries were now world-class football countries because their players were playing in strong non-African leagues. He used that reasoning as justification for a full-time national team.

Humbly, I beg to disagree. His statement only reinforces the fact that a strong and competitive league begets strong and competitive players.

To get Malaysian football back on track then is to get the local leagues back on track. A strong local league with huge grassroots support ensures a strong foundation for the national team.

If there are fears that national players who return to their clubs/states come back to the national team with reduced fitness levels, then improve the facilities at the local level. If there are fears that players returning to the national team are short on match fitness then all the more for a strong and competitive league – one which can maintain the mettle of Malaysia’s finest.

A national team is a living thing, the embodiment of the country’s prowess in the arena. It should not be artificially made and created on a whim. It should be nurtured, shaped and moulded. And if it is to be nurtured, shaped and moulded properly, then the process should begin from the bottom-up and not from the top-down.


George Town.

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