Friday, December 30, 2016

Thirteen years ago, when the Super League was launched...

I wrote this for the Malay Mail shortly after the Malaysian Super League (MSL) was launched. Thirteen LONG years have passed since then...and most of the questions I posed in 2004 remain unanswered due to a variety of factors.

The logo changes whenever there is a new title sponsor enters the scene...but nothing much has changed in terms of managing the stakeholders. With little effort to make football a sustainable industry, the issue of Kelantan wanting to withdraw and Selangor's internal bickering will be symptomatic of our woes, with no real solution in sight.


THE launch of the Malaysian Super League (MSL) has opened a new chapter in the history of football in the country, 15 years after the semi-pro league was launched and nine years after the league turned fully pro in 1995.

In reality though, Malaysian football was professional only in name. That is typically Malaysian, given that style is always preferred over substance.

On the global front, the great game appeals to Kings and Queens down to the simple man in the street.

For the average Malaysian fan, it lost its luster long ago.

The MSL, nonetheless, deserves a chance.

It could be the league's first step towards taking a truly professional character.

Although cynics may claim that FAM have only conjured up a new name under the same old regime and administration, the fact remains the national body were bold enough to restrict the top league to a deserving few. 

Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor Public Bank, Penang, Sarawak, Kedah and Sabah have earned the privilege of becoming the interpreter of FAM's league ambitions, which ultimately is to produce a quality national side.

This formula was first introduced by the Korean FA who kicked off their pro league in 1983. They began with only two professional clubs - Yukong Elephants and Hallelujah FC - and three amateur teams, POSCO Atoms, Daewoo Royals and Citizens National Bank.

Still K-League was an example of quality rather than quantity. From such a small number of clubs, the league succeeded in producing the players to help the Koreans qualify for five successive World Cups, the last one in 2002 by virtue of being co-hosts with Japan.

But then again they have a large pool of talent to choose from. Furthermore they have laid a strong foundation, in terms of finance, technical support and fan-base.

They confined the top league to eight teams, whereas we have the Super League as well as the Premier League which has been divided into two groups.

In our case, is the MSL the answer to our woes?

Part of FAM's renaming of the league is to plan ahead in three phases in the evolution of the MSL - Phase 1 (2004-2007), Phase 2 (2008-2011) and Phase 3 (2012-2015).

By the year 2015, FAM hope to have 10 teams for MSL, all helmed by coaches who hold a UEFA Professional Diploma, supported by a panel of qualified personnels comprising two assistant coaches, fitness trainer, goalkeeper coach, a doctor, physiotherapist, trained masseur and a football development centre to call home.

Not to mention a complete youth programme incorporating the First Touch programme. These are all noble intentions but have FAM rectified the weaknesses at various levels?

The large presence of foreign players will surely create a negative impact on the emergence of young local players. The likes of Hairuddin Omar, Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli and Indra Putra Mahayuddin came to the fore in the absence of foreign signings.

And are FAM's vetting committee scrutinising the credentials of every foreign applicant?

K-League and the J-League, when launched in 1993, attracted a host of ex-internationals and ex-World Cuppers.

Can we do the same? FAM deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah however, defended the idea of having the MSL.

"Something had to be done about the sinking fortunes of the national team. Our aim is to provide a platform for every team to improve in all aspects," said Tengku Abdullah.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Returning the game to the masses

Usually I send my column to Lee Seng Foo, the managing editor of Four-Four-Two Malaysia, way beyond deadline! For the latest issue (December), it was written in early November. It has been overtaken by events, so here goes...

A day after the heart-breaking defeat on penalties to Kedah in the Malaysia Cup final in October, it was revealed that FA of Selangor (FAS) – rocked by internal dispute and allegations of mismanagement – would no longer enjoy State funding.

Unlike previous years, there was no mention of football in Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali’s budget proposal for his State for the year 2017 at the Selangor State Legislative Assembly. Azmin, to the uninitiated, happens to also be the president of FAS.

This was possibly Azmin’s way of retaliating to what was a real acid test of his leadership in August.

The majority of FAS exco members staged a walk out when Azmin, chairing the meeting, was planning to announce the new head coach to replace Zainal Abidn Hassan and privatisation plans for the Super League next season.

The walk out was designed to undermine Azmin’s position after he had earlier forced the resignation of two of FAS’ senior officials, namely treasurer Datuk S. Sivasundaram and secretary general Rosman Ibrahim, who were perceived as being the stumbling blocks to FAS’ privatisation efforts.

A newbie in football, by now Azmin must have realised the cut-throat world of football management and running the State can be equally demanding.

Selangor is a case in point where calls for reforms in football governance that have been made for many years have fallen on deaf ears.

But largely due to today’s borderless world, the move has gathered momentum in recent times. With a new generation of fans who are enlightened enough on the happenings around the world, their desire to effect changes knows no bounds.

In the present eco-system, though, effecting changes may mean a head-on collision with the powers-that-be.

A cursory glance on the 12 teams in the Super League, three teams are State-based who enjoy the patronage of the chief executive of the State. The two Malaysia Cup finalists – Kedah and Selangor – are helmed by Menteris Besar while Terengganu FA has the Menteri Besar as acting president.

In juggling between political and State official duties, the norm is to leave footballing matters into the trusted hands of a proxy.

While everyone understands football no longer holds amateurish or part-time status, in reality our game remains amateur. Professionals and salaried staff are required to run the game at all levels in every State FA yet how many associations can name a chief executive, a marketing manager, a technical director, a media officer and a medical doctor on their payroll? 

This is the point being made by observers and fans alike. Without fulfilling these criteria, Malaysian football cannot meet the demands of the modern game. It is indeed unfortunate that despite the Super League being launched amidst fanfare in January 2004, there is nothing super about the standard being dished out, both in terms of governance and performance.

When Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the then deputy president of FAM, launched the Super League in January 2004, he delivered a 15-page speech touching on the future of Malaysian football.

He had envisaged for a Super League team to have a complete set-up, with an academy, a team bus, a pool of administrators and a training facility by 2016.

When Khairy Jamaluddin was elected as the deputy president of FAM-cum-chairman of MSL Sdn Bhd, FAM’s investment arm, he pushed for a commercial agenda involving the private sector, which included stadia as marketing tools, State micro-leagues sponsored by selected corporate giants and a reality TV show.

Clearly the top down approach does not work. We need to change, and change now.

As a football aficionado, I am desperate to see the fruition of the JDT Foundation which offers the fans to co-own the team, much like the way Barcelona and Real Madrid are registered as member-owned non-profit sports organisations.

Not only will it ensure a high level of fan involvement and engagement, the fans will be able to elect the team chief.

There will be no issue of a leader overstaying his welcome. The fans will get to control the fate of the team and maybe pay an average of RM600 to enjoy member privileges and those who aspire to be the president must provide a bank guarantee.

This means the candidates are successful businessmen who do not need football to earn a living nor garner political mileage.

It’s time to return football back to its real owners - the masses.

Friday, December 9, 2016

FAM, the league and community-based clubs

The idea of a league independent of the FA of Malaysia, on top of community-based clubs, was first discussed in 1999.

This article appeared on The Malay Mail February 20, 2005, following FAM's decision to appoint PwC in proposing a restructure. The outcome?

SIX years ago, a group of officials from the FA of Malaysia (FAM) descended on the land of the Rising Sun to conduct a study on the progress made by Japan.

The six-man group were led by the then FAM assistant secretary, Datuk Yap Nyim Keong. Forming the team were the then head of academies, Datuk Paduka Ahmad Basri Mohd Akil, the ex-director-general of education, Datuk Shukor Abdullah, former FAM director of coaching Ronald Smith, the then FAM council member Datuk Dell Akbar Khan and former national Under-19 coach B. Sathianathan.

This writer was among the privileged few to be given an insight into how the Japanese had made the quantum leap, when in fact they had kicked off their development programme based on the Malaysian model following a visit to Kuala Lumpur in 1980.

Today, none of the individuals who formed the study group remain in FAM.

Unfortunately, the report they submitted to the FAM top brass was never put into practice. The conclusion from the tour was a change in the FAM set-up and how things were conducted were imperative if we were to move with the times.

One of them was that FAM must be independent of the State FAs. But it requires the FAM constitution to be amended to enable the body to shift their focus towards developing the sport.

This will also allow FAM to be run by technical people and corporate figures with the principal office-bearers as figureheads.

The idea of a new league structure run by a separate entity was also mooted along the lines of the J-League which is the body that administers the league in Japan.

The J-League, introduced in 1993, requires each club to set down deep roots throughout their home community, with corporate sponsors providing crucial back-up with their administrative skills.

The J-League's board of directors and auditors are elected by the general meeting. The executive committee consists of the chairman, directors with specific responsibilities and one representative selected from each club. The board of directors are the J-League's highest authority in deciding the aims and policies of the league. The executive committee puts those aims and policies into effect as well as deliberating and deciding on matters entrusted to it by the board of directors.

This is where good corporate governance comes in. It provides a system of checks and balances, so that directors are always looking over the shoulders of management.

The national body, which is the Japanese FA (JFA), are thus solely responsible for developing the game at grassroots level through a pyramid structure without being bogged down by affairs of the league.

The idea was not to adopt the Japanese model in totality but some of the proposals put forward were worth a try. Unfortunately, what concerns FAM at this moment is the administrative set-up, when in fact it should be last of the agenda.

Granted there are some weaknesses in the daily administration and maybe a revamp is timely.

So let us see what globally-renowned consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) may have in store for FAM.

According to their website, PwC serve their clients primarily in four areas corporate accountability, risk management, structuring and mergers and acquisitions and performance and process improvement.

Also, their extensive studies into the future of the workplace are designed to help their clients create value for their business through people.

So basically, they will look into the human resource aspects of the body, with health, welfare and retirement benefits for the staff, and the possible addition of a few departments to help FAM establish a more professional outlook.

It's no rocket science really because what FAM need are a team of professionals, who will be held accountable with a set of objectives to be fulfilled within the stipulated period.

For instance if a marketing man were to be employed to market the Super League, he would be given a target to strive for, let us say RM1 million in two years. If he fails, he will be given the boot.

Because of the occupational hazard, he or she will enjoy a lucrative salary.

An association like FAM, who continue to rely on council members to decide on the policies will struggle to meet the demands of today's game. Can PwC help FAM on that score?

We hope Shah Alam Antlers and Petaling Jaya Rangers be the agents of change in an environment which, unfortunately, encourages mediocrity and protects self-serving decision-makers.

Saturday, December 3, 2016



In March last year, I wrote about the M-League being operated by an entity independent of FA of Malaysia (FAM).

Like many others, the patriot in me was seduced by the idea of a hybrid model league structure designed to elevate both the commercial appeal of the league and the standard of the national team.

"We studied various models in coming up with a structure. Eventually it was decided that FMLLP remain under the auspices of FAM because of national interests. Everything is done with the interests of the national team in mind.

"A totally independent body running the league will drive through its plans without taking into consideration the requirements of the national team," so said Kevin Ramalingam, CEO of FMLLP, or Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership.

Kevin and Co oversee five properties owned by FAM – the Super League, the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup or Charity Shield and the Malaysia Cup – in terms of enforcing the rules and regulations of the league, match fixtures, as well as the commercial and broadcasting rights for the M-League, with FAM affiliates having a stake in the structure.

That would be a boost for FAM, who has been running the game with a budget deficit for the past few years. FMLLP was to handle a guaranteed minimum amount of RM70 million a year in a deal with leading international media rights company, MP & Silva, beginning 2016, with a total revenue of RM1.26 billion spread over 15 years.

FMLLP’s baby steps thus far elicit a mixed review.

On the plus side, some of the properties have been given a fresh commercial brand – the Premier League is now known as the 100 Plus Premier League, Malaysia Cup is TM Malaysia Cup and the Superbest Power is the title sponsors of the FA Cup.

MP & Silva and FMLLP have managed to source an estimated RM40 million in sponsorship value, short however of RM30 million as promised. On the downside, there have been murmurs of discontent.

The FA Cup and Malaysia Cup draws were shown live on TV, breaking convention and good for sponsors but offer little for other stakeholders, including the print media. It could be a case of pleasing the sponsors and paying scant regard for the true supporters.

As the face of Malaysian football, the homepage offers a mixture of English and Bahasa Malaysia, similar to that of the FAM, while news, articles and profile features on the landing page are not accompanied with the latest statistics.

Kevin’s threat of issuing action against salary defaulters like the Kelantan FA has fallen on deaf ears. In fact FAM affiliates are gung-ho enough to ignore, question and undermine FMLLP’s authority.

The sad truth is that FAM has its noose on FMLLP’s neck. Kevin is not exactly a new kid on the block, having run the commercial arm of Kelantan FA previously but intelligent enough to hire two veterans of the game – former FIFA referees Nik Ahmad Yakub and Amir Sharifuddin Wong to put FMLLP on an even keel.

Nik Ahmad who previously served in FAM, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and Indonesia is the technical audit and training manager, while Amir Sharifuddin is special projects manager.

But Kevin and Co understand the scenario. They remain subservient to the FMLLP Exective Board, currently comprising FAM representatives – president, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, two deputy presidents – Afandi and Datuk Mokhtar Ahmad, general secretary Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin and treasurer, Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria.

Under the pretext of protecting national interests, disciplinary matters relating to the league fall under FAM’s auspices, rendering FMLLP toothless in taking action against affiliates laden with unpaid salaries.

FMLLP has no financial department that is independent of FAM.

The red tape is not helping FMLLP’s reputation. The dynamics is such that local football is run by warlords linked to the ruling government.

And imagine the conflicting interests when a member of the FMLLP executive board and the No 2 of the national governing body happens to the deputy president of an affiliate in debt and yet to settle unpaid wages.

The idea is for FMLLP to hasten Malaysian football into the professional world.

The league congress which will consist representatives of the 24 teams in the top two-tier competitions – 12 from the Super League and another 12 from the Premier League – plus five from FAM, FMLLP will then be navigated by the decisions made by the teams themselves.

Before that to happen, Kevin and Co must learn not to promise the stars. Given the present scenario, we are not ready for it a fully professional and privatised football league. Unfortunately.



I WAS in my teens when Italian Soccer was shown in the mid-80s over TV3, Malaysia’s first private television station.

On the heels of Italy’s World Cup victory in 1982, Serie A enjoyed a new lease of life as it made a turnaround of fortunes after suffering the ignominy of a match-fixing scandal in 1980.

The league attracted football’s crème de la crème.

Michel Platini’s telepathic understanding with Zbigniew Boniek symbolised Juventus’ attacking prowess, while Diego Maradona’s mazy dribbling skills illuminated Napoli.

Fans danced to the samba beat as Socrates, Falcao, Zico, Cerezo and Junior brought the Brazilian flavour to Italy.

The Italians were no slouch either – Paolo Rossi, Giancarlo Antognoni, Gaetano Scirea and Marco Tardelli were classy footballers in their own right.

Sampdoria rose to prominence with the able assistance of Brits like Trevor Francis and Graeme Souness, who provided guidance to youngsters Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini.

Italy was the place to be, even for the technically-challenged Englishman like Luther Blissett. And due to the weekly exposure to Serie A, I vividly remember Bari featured two Englishmen - Paul Rideout and Gordon Cowans during that timeframe.

Cowans who was a vital cog behind Aston Villa’s European Cup victory in 1982, was a cultured left-footed playmaker, not exactly in the mould of the typical English hard-running and hard-tackling midfield terrier.

By the time Bari announced David Platt’s transfer from Aston Villa in 1995, Serie A no longer attracted the greatest talents.

They prefer La Liga or the English top-flight, rebranded as the Premiership in 1992. Serie A does not have the audience share in terms of TV, as the bulk goes to England and the fans no longer fill the stadia.

It is therefore a surprise when Serie B side, Bari, announced that 50 percent of the club’s share are now owned by a Malaysian, Datuk Noordin Ahmad.

Although he has been in business for more than two decades, Noordin is an unknown entity as opposed to AirAsia tycoon and branding guru, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes.

It was not hard to understand the rationale behind Fernandes’ takeover of Queens Park Rangers (QPR).

He realises the Premiership offered a huge audience from Asia, estimated by a research by the Premier League to be 470 million followers, more than any other region in the world.

It was the best platform to promote his brand all at one go across all market segments in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and India.

AirAsia did their part for the national federation too. The FA of Malaysia (FAM) was a beneficiary of a paltry sum of RM1 million per annum from AirAsia when Khairy Jamaluddin was the deputy president of the body.

About the same time, Mohamed bin Hammam who presided over the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) from 2002 to 2011, claimed 61 percent of all football revenue generated in Asia went to the Premier League!

For the 2013-2016 time frame, the Premiership broadcasting deal in Asia was worth an estimated US$1,270 million, with Astro Holdings Berhad paying a reportedly US$200 million to bring the matches to the comforts of our homes.

From the purist’s point of view, Hammam was probably right in saying Europe was taking vast sums of money out of Asia without leaving a lasting legacy.

But football being a huge global broadcasting product that is subject to market forces, investors, marketeers and the moneymen think otherwise.

This begs the question – why not invest big-time in the local game? Ideally a consortium of companies owned by Fernandes, Tan Sri Vincent Tan who owns Cardiff City, Belgian outfit KV Kotrijk and Bosnian club FK Sarajevo and Noordin could have given something back to Malaysian football and its audience.

TV statistics suggest it has a huge following as well.

But one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Malaysian football is the lack of professionalism at all levels.

The only individual who owns a team is Tengku Mahkota Johor, who has done wonders in marketing JDT as a brand and a winning outfit.

Despite promising to invest much as RM16 million for two season into the Kelantan side, Datuk Seri Dr Hasmiza Othman, known as Dr Vida, will testify that she has little authority in determining the course of the elite team, the back-up squad or the academy unless she owns the team, very much like the way JDT is run by Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

In short, Malaysian football is not business friendly enough to create a sustainable industry for potential investors. The group of individuals and politicians running Malaysian football are not professionals.

That is why Europe is cashing in!


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!



FOR most expatriates who hail from traditionally strong football nations, they will notice that the chief coach in Malaysia does not necessarily enjoy autonomy in charting his team’s fortunes.

Often he has to co-exist with another individual, who is given the title manager.

Quickly neutral observers will realise managers here play a different role as oppose to their counterparts in Europe.

A manager in Malaysia means he manages non-football issues. He could be the money man, logistics administrator, father figure and contact point for the employers all rolled into one.

The coach, meanwhile, is left to train the team and focus on the football related matters.

But a manager here can also interfere with the running of the team. The separation of powers between a technocrat and the bureaucrat is, on most occasions, blurred.

The presence of a manager in the team is entrenched the system. In a society that glorifies officials, it serves the interest of the coach if he can co-exist peacefully with the manager.

A team manager is much appreciated if he can add value to the way the team is managed.

Examples of great leaders of men who were managers in their own right are many.

But no one quite comes close to Datuk Harun Idris. Held In high esteem by his players, Harun served as president of the Selangor FA president from 1961 to 1982.

Being the Menteri Besar of course was a big help. Throughout the period, Harun arguably oversaw Selangor’s greatest era. On top of churning out a steady supply of players who went on to don national colours, Selangor under Harun enjoyed unprecedented success at all levels.

Under his tenure, Selangor lifted the Malaysia Cup on 15 occasions and qualified for the Asian Club Championship in 1967.

A master motivator, thanks to his political standing, Harun was manager of the national team on numerous occasions as well, counting the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich as the highlight of his career. Harun set a new benchmark.

In the succeeding years, his son Mazlan took over the reins at Selangor with aplomb. Coaches come and go but the team manager, as the supremo, seemed to be the focal point of the team.

The model seemed suited to the times. So in the 1980s and 90s, Tan Sri Elyas Omar, Datuk Paduka Ahmad Basri Mohd Akil, Datuk Suleiman Mohd Noor, Datuk Seri Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Omar and Datuk Taha Ariffin garnered a lion’s share of the limelight. Datuk Abu Bakar Daud meanwhile was synonymous with the national team in the 80s.

Not that Malaysian football had not attempted to go against the current before.

Alan Vest was given the authority to hire and fire for Sarawak, as he was given full powers by the Sarawak FA in the early 90s, Datuk M. Karathu for Negeri Sembilan, Yunus Aliff for Pahang, Mat Zan Mat Aris for Kuala Lumpur Karl Weigang for Johor and in recent years K. Devan for Selangor,

B. Sathianathan and Bojan Hodak for Kelantan were tasked to carry the coach-cum-manager duties. 

But as we seek to become more professional, a new culture needs to be cultivated.

FA of Malaysia technical director Fritz Schmid for one has proposed the appointment of the national team director, or the supremo.

"I believe there needs to be a professional structure for the management of the national team, with a national team director as a full-time employed member of the Harimau Malaysia environment.

"His task is to tackle all the stakeholders so that the chief coach is not burdened with additional pressures. The team director is not only in charge of the various teams but also deals with the various committees, namely technical, national team, international affairs, media and marketing, competitions, medical and sports science and the departments of coaching education and elite performance.

"He works together with the chief coach, players, performance analysis, assistant coaches, and the support team comprising the physiotherapist, psychologist, team doctor, masseurs and nutritionists in planning for the national team."

This is the model relevant for the teams in the domestic game as well.

One has to acknowledge the role of a manager like Harun is no longer relevant in today’s game.

A sporting director or general manager who possesses a technical background will be able to plan for his team on all aspects, provided he has an excellent team behind the actual team, where everyone is an expert in their respective fields. But one thing remains the same, he has to enjoy the coach’s implicit trust.



IGNORANCE is bliss, so they say. But in footballing terms, ignorance is no excuse.

It has been more than 20 years after the M-League turned fully professional (in name) but a structured transfer system has yet to be established.

Transfer refers essentially to the contractual relationship and rules that oblige a player and a club.

So a transfer is whenever a player moves from one club to another and implies the transferring of a player’s registration from one club to another.

A transfer fee is involved when a player moves to another club whilst he is still under contract with his present employers.

In other words it calls for an early termination of his present contract.

There are two types of financial indemnities related to transfers, transfer fee and training compensation.

Transfer for early termination of contract can be described as an agreement between a professional player, the club he is leaving and the club he is joining subject to all parties being agreeable to the terms and conditions.

So a transfer is a tripartite agreement between the player, the transferor club and the transferee club.

Training compensation or development fee can be defined as an amount agreed by all parties to indicate expenses incurred in developing the player during his formative years.

In a sport that has a large number of commercial interests - advertising, media industry and sportswear, a transfer can create a media circus.

In recent times we have been exposed to numerous cases. FAM handed Gary Steven Robbat a three-month suspension and a fine of RM50,000 for signing with Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) without prior approval in 2014, with the suspension bringing an end to a three-way tussle for the then 22-year-old player, namely his home state Kedah, Johor and Pahang.

The biggest issue then was that he was tied to FAM by virtue of being a Harimau Muda player. Now that the Harimau Muda program has been abolished, the issue of players having to return to their original State or birthplace upon reaching a certain age is no longer relevant.

Selangor right-back Azrif Nasrulhaq Badrul Hisham was still contracted to FA of Selangor when JDT lured him recently with an interesting proposition.

If there was a transfer system in place, Azrif could have brought his case to FAM and seek an early termination of contract from Selangor and for JDT to pay not only the remaining of his contract but a certain fee agreeable to both parties.

Pahang meanwhile will need to negotiate with Frenz United to release R. Kogileswaren and R. Dinesh, two of nine players down with a five-year scholarship deal with the private club since 2014.

Amidst this chaos, the Professional Footballers Association of Malaysia (PFAM) can justify its existence. Having been dormant for a long time, PFAM was revived by a group of players led by Hairuddin Omar, Shukor Adan and Rezal Zambery Yahya.

A young chap called Izham Ismail was handpicked to head a group of young individuals with legal background to run the office.

In a forum co-organised by a loose coalition of fans, ex-players and coaches calling themselves Real Friends with the assistance of the National Football Development Plan (NFDP) support unit, Izham revealed the staggering number of unpaid salaries.

Despite being a new kid on the block, Izham is sceptical for a transfer system to work given the current scenario.

"The players need to realise being professional is not only about earning a certain sum of money and salary negotiation.

"In professional football it has become an industry and therefore it has to be managed like a business. The players are the team’s assets and under such circumstances, the players have to see themselves as commodities.

"A player of a certain stature can be a source of revenue and income for the teams and himself. He is in a position to bargain for the highest bidder and the value is reflected in the amount of the transfer fees.

"Over here the idea of an established transfer system is still vague. Very seldom we hear Team A paying Team B a sum as a transfer fee. Often we have teams paying compensation fees for buying out the remaining contract.

In order for a transfer system to be put in place, Izham says the issue of unpaid salaries needs to be addressed.

"The basic principle of a transfer must be fully understood by everyone connected to the game. We are deeply saddened by the fact many teams are taking the players for a ride.

"Until today five teams owe their players an accumulative sum of RM4.47 million in unpaid salaries. The FAM Status Committee meanwhile takes a long time to convene and provide a solution to this."

The ball is in FAM’s court. The merry-go-round circus will surely stop one day.

Four-Four-Two column - February 2016


Malaysian football was perceived to be in a healthy state in the 50s.

On the global front, it had a showpiece event to be proud of in the form of the Merdeka Tournament, an event that was known beyond its shores.

In the domestic game, the HMS Malaya Cup, the precursor to the Malaysia Cup, was the ultimate aim for every footballer worth his salt.

For up and coming youth, there was the Burnley Cup, introduced in 1962 and which was later rebranded as the Razak Cup for players under the age of 20, to look forward to.

Life was much simpler then. And believe it or not, despite not having fully embraced commercialism, the competitions were fully sponsored by tobacco money! The widespread reality in Malaysia then was the strong links between the Malayan Tobacco Company with the no 1 sport in the country.

Players Gold Leaf for example financed the coaching sojourns of German master coach Dettmar Cramer and Scotsman Dave McLaren, who won the Malaya Cup as a goalkeeper with Penang in 1954 before becoming coach of the 1971 pre-Olympics team.

The trip to Europe made by the late Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat and Robert Choe in the 1960s was also financed by tobacco money.

The Burnley Cup – a ready-made platform for talent scouts to scour for unpolished gems – too was brought to the public by cigarette companies.

The Merdeka Tournament would not have been a great success without the support of various sponsors and partners to FAM, which until 1984, had only three properties to their name – the Merdeka Tournament, the Malaysia Cup and the FAM Cup.

Then came the semi-pro league in 1989.

In terms of drawing power, there was nothing wrong with the Malaysia Cup. But apart from the annual ritual to see who would emerge as the winner, it was not helping FAM keep pace with the global game.

It yearned for a league that offered the competitive edge over a certain period.

Competitions mushroomed. On top of the existing tournaments, the two-tier Semi-Pro league and the FA Cup as well as the revamped inter-club FAM Cup created a multi-million ringgit industry.

When Sultan Ahmad Shah took over FAM in 1984, the sponsorship income was RM500,000, inclusive of the Merdeka Tournament, while the bank balance was RM500,000.

FAM too generated token income from rental of the old Wisma FAM at Jalan Maharajalela. The figures shot up within seven years, with an income of RM11.5 million annually with an excess cash of RM10 million.

How did FAM cultivate a relationship with the various stakeholders – the sponsors, the media and the fans especially?

It was unavoidable for FAM to create a stronger link with commercial enterprise. The conventional means of keeping sponsors happy was to have their logos on jerseys and the naming rights to various competitions and all marketing collaterals, including outdoor advertising such as billboards.

Before the advent of satellite television, broadcasting rights of local competitions were distributed to either government-run RTM or private stations such as TV3 and ntv7.

There was no other media rights involved.

For key events like a Malaysia Cup draw, for instance, was held in a lavish manner as the media mixed business with pleasure on land and sea.

Fast forward to 2015, football in Malaysia has become a far greater profit-maximising industry.

Astro’s RM30 million a year sponsorship which ran from 2011 to 2015 raised the profile of the domestic game.

The commercial aspects of the game grew, with capital accumulation by offering opportunities for enterprises to provide essentials and accessories, retail, sponsorship and advertising.

Repucom, a leading market research audit company, calculated the total media value of the league amounted to almost RM500 million.

And when Astro’s sponsorship term ended in early 2015, it created a bidding war that ultimately led to the appointment of MP & Silva as a global adviser for FAM.

Tasked to bring in at least RM80 million a year for FMLLP, the entity formed to run the M-League, MP & Silva have managed to draw sponsors with naming rights for the FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup.

In return the sponsors demand for greater brand exposure!

While the action that takes place outside the pitch sometimes overshadow the ongoings on it, football continues to evoke passion of the most extreme.

Since it is one of the most marketable and influential products, one’s passionate allegiance to the sport is manipulated by marketing gurus and individuals seeking personal gain, whether you are in Malaysia or elsewhere.

Football is certainly no ordinary business. Traditionally football teams aim to win matches, not to make profit. The ultimate challenge is to strike while the iron is hot. Then only can one mix business with pleasure.

Four-Four-Two column - January 2016


A sumptuous through ball to Luciano Figueroa ended up with the ball in the back of the Lions XII net.

Shortly after he sent a trademark free-kick beyond the despairing dive of Izwan Mahbud.

Those two moments of brilliance, registered into the annals of Malaysian football on January 28, 2014, did not really epitomise Pablo Aimar’s brief fling with Johor Darul Ta’zim.

Undoubtedly his sheer presence in the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsular was a coup. It was also a marketing strategy to enhance JDT’s growing reputation as a force to be reckoned with in South East Asia.

A player of Aimar’s reputation quickly raised the league profile.

Search engines on Aimar and internet hits on JDT grew by leaps and bounds.

On the pitch however, his eight months in Johor yielded only two goals in eight matches. Still his moments of brilliance, however fleeting, remain unforgettable.

That match against Lions XII at Tan Sri Hassan Yunos Stadium, widely acknowledged as having the best pitch in the country, was one of them.

Shakir Shaari set up Aimar who split the Lions XII defence open with a sublime pass using the outside of his foot, paving the way for Figueroa to slot home inside Izwan’s near post.

Three minutes before the break, another magic was produced by the former Valencia and Benfica maestro.

Defender Afiq Yunos upended JDT attacker Amri Yahyah and Aimar stepped up to send an exquisite 20-metre free-kick over the wall, again leaving Izwan clutching at thin air.

For Malaysian fans fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Aimar’s entry into the world as he helped Argentina to the 1997 FIFA World Youth Cup title, months shy before he turned 18, it was the majestic touch that they had been waiting for.

Unfortunately it was shortlived. Aimar was axed in April 2014, less than a year into his sojourn in Malaysia.

His compatriot Figueroa, who was signed together with Aimar, however, remained. Fondly known as Lucho, Figueroa’s goalscoring instincts and work ethics endeared him to JDT faithful. With 11 goals to his name in 2014 Super League, he was second only to Golden Boot winner Paulo Rangel’s 16 goals.

With Aimar’s replacement Jorge Pereyra Diaz firing on all cylinders, the Argentine duo helped JDT to the league title in June and eventually to the Malaysia Cup final before losing to Pahang in a heartbreaking penalty shootout.

Lucho’s cameo role also led JDT to a historic win over Istiklol in the AFC Cup final.

Another matchwinner from Argentina is Matias Conti, who nodded the ball home for Pahang to win the Malaysia Cup in 2013.

Long before Aimar, Lucho and Diaz performed the tango on our shores, Malaysia had grown accustomed to Latin flair.

In 2003, Juan Manuel Arostegui took the Malaysia Cup by storm.

In Division Two of the old format, Arostegui was in such a free scoring mood that he totalled 50 goals, including a hattrick in the Malaysia Cup final as Selangor MPPJ became the first club side to lift the Cup.

Arostegui was ably abetted by again another Argentine, Bruno Martelotto, a midfield dynamo known for his tireless running.

Blazing the trail before them were a long list of Argentines that featured Jose Iriarte, Brian Fuentes, Luis Pablo Pozzuto and Gustavo Fuentes among them.

For Kedah fans who covet Sandro da Silva’s dead-ball expertise, they appreciate the fact the Northern giants had been dancing to the samba in the 90s, with Andre Luis Nascimento pulling the strings in midfield.

The tradition was continued by attacker Marcos Tavares and his left foot before Chilean Nelson San Martin became the vital cog in Kedah’s machinery with his silky skills and curling free-kicks as the Canaries (Kedah’s previous nickname) won the Double Treble in 2007 and 2008.

Most of these Latin maestros were natural crowd-pullers with their technical and tactical abilities surpassing that of their local counterparts. The flair for finding their team mates with pin-point passes, the final through ball piercing the opponents’ defence, the ability to keep possession with solid shielding skills, the sheer mastery of the ball in slaloming past defenders and above all the knack of scoring goals from dead-ball situations made them cult figures with their respective fans.

Rangel for example was a goal machine who found the net for Perak, Selangor and Terengganu with consummate ease, putting aside his off-the-pitch antics.

The overall standard aside, the Latin maestros could not help but fall in love with the Malaysian weather and hospitality. The fans in return showered them with affection and admiration. The feeling was clearly mutual.