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.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ON THE MALAY MAIL ON JANUARY 2004
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.