Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I use to watch Malaysian football back in the good old days during my teenage years. It was exciting to support your state football team. However, since they try to mix politics with football, everything has gone downhill from then on. It has to be separated, just like how mixing religion with politics is very dangerous.

Comment: Change Is Needed In Malaysia

03/02/2009 03:59

Asian Editor John Duerden writes that enough is enough in the increasingly desperate world of Malaysian football...

It was inevitable. A month after a disappointing first round exit at South-east Asia’s regional championship, you don’t lose 5-0 at home to UAE, blame the local football league for the result and expect to keep your job – no matter what the mitigating circumstances may be. And Sure enough, B. Sathianathan was fired as Malaysian national team coach last weekend.

Coming into the job after the debacle of the 2007 Asian Cup when Malaysia, as co-host, lost all three games with an aggregate of 12-1, the only positive thing was that at least expectations were low. On the other hand it showed that there were major problems. Sathia was never really in a position to be able to solve any of them – the serious ones anyway.

Not long ago I wrote an article asking if it could get any worse for Malaysia. That 5-0 defeat was worse. It almost seemed to be the end. It was certainly the end of the coach’s patience. After the game he blasted the local competition.

“The M-league is not football,” he said, telling how just three of his players passed an independent fitness test. “If I have to go, I’ll go,” he thundered.

Despite the scoreline and the outburst, or because of it, Sathia got a good deal of sympathy from fans, media and professionals. Much of the ire has been focused in the direction of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

In response to the question from local journalists as to whether he was fired for results or his commenhts, FAM deputy president Datuk Redzuan Tan Sri Sheikh Ahmad said, “It was overall. There are conditions in the clause to terminate the coach’s contract if the performance of the national team is not up to the mark.”

“Well, what can I do ... I accept the decision but it does not solve anything,” said Sathianathan. Newspapers such as The Star, a rational voice in domestic football matters, believe that Sathia is paying the price for the failings of those above him.

Both coach and paper are probably right. Following the Asian Cup disaster, the powers-that-be in Kuala Lumpur decided to "go back to the drawing board" and ban clubs from hiring foreign players from 2009. In one fell swoop, the league lost many of its best players, continental competiveness and credibility.

It wasn’t always this way. Malaysia used to be a power in the seventies. As often happens, stars players that retired- such as Mokhdar Dari and Santok Singh - haven’t been replaced on the pitch.

But it is off the pitch were the real problems can be found. Cronyism and politicians using the game for their own ends are common complaints among fans. The belief that some players are chosen not for their skill but because of race is also widespread. If that wasn't complicated enough, corruption is perceived to be rife.

The inefficiency of the Malaysian system, with state FAs often more concerned about their own power and interests rather than the good of the game, doesn’t help and neither does the national FA’s past propensity to fire coaches who were actually pretty good – the sight of Claude Le Roy lifting the Gulf Cup with Oman in January should be a lesson to those in KL who fired him in 1995.

The Frenchman is in the past, as now is Sathia.The future starts now. There is much work to be done at the grassroots, local, regional and national levels. The appointment of a new coach is important but is just one of a number of necessary steps. It is also the easiest, though far from easy to get right.

FAM have already said that they want the new guy in place quickly. Debate has started as to whether he should be local or foreign.

Perhaps he could be a combination of both. Peter Butler is currently coaching in the Malaysian Super League with Kelantan and has in the past been at the helm of Sabah. The former West Ham United midfielder has also managed in England, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.

I should also say here that I know the 42 year-old and like him as a person (he contributes to Goal.com). However, that also means I know that he is passionate about the country, speaks the language (conducting training in Malay), is forward-thinking and could hit the ground running.

Butler is not the only choice by any means but he ticks many boxes.

Whatever happens, in this respect and others, Malaysian football can’t keep making mistakes.

John Duerden

Asia Editor



Post a Comment

<< Home