Monday, February 9, 2009

Seven More Days Before M-League Losing Some More Grounds

After winning the Malaysia Cup in 1994, Singapore decided to pull out from M-League following the dispute with FAM over gate receipts.

The decision means Singapore will no longer enter a team in what was then South East Asia’s most lucrative football league. The FA of Singapore (FAS) decided to concentrate on setting up domestic professional league, aptly name S-League which started its first season in 1996.

In the beginning, S-League went through several turbulent seasons. Combined attendance of all clubs in the S-League is still no match to the amount of fans attending Singapore matches during their M-League years. The future look bleak, a small, island state doesn’t seem to be the right environment for a professional, money-making football league.

But there is one thing that Singapore has that other South East Asian countries lack of. Good management (or perhaps good governance) which turns the S-League into a proper professional league that FAS aspires it to be. The league may not be as big as those in Malaysia or Indonesia, but it serves its purpose, to develop talent and improve the standard of football in Singapore.

Results of the S-League are obvious. The S-League itself is a Grade C league and ranked 11 among Asian football leagues. The Singapore national team is ranked 135 in the world, with all the national players themselves plying their trade in S-League. In comparison the M-League is Grade D league and ranked 18 in Asia, with the Malaysian football team at position 158 in FIFA ranking, perceptibly suffering from M-League’s lack of quality.

That gives the decision makers of Malaysian football many issues to consider. There is no concrete evidence that Singapore departure from the M-League contribute to the downward spiral of M-League and Malaysian football, but the correlation is there. The Malaysian professional league started to lose its appeal from 1994 onward, and the qualities slowly depreciate. It seems with Singapore gone, the FAM loss a member of the league that provide them some sort of check and balance in terms of management and professionalism.

Today, the S-League is in a class of its own. The average attendance of its matches is still far from Singapore’s M-League years, the passion is not as energetic as those in Indonesian Super League (ISL) and their national team is still behind South East Asian football powerhouse Thailand. But in terms on professionalism and management, S-League set the benchmark in all ASEAN. They exude sense of professionalism, seemingly transparent and its portal clearly more up to date and informative compared to the rest.

The new 2009 season kicks off in 16 February, seven days to go in what is describe as ‘another thrilling S-League season’ that awaits ‘die hard football fans’. Sponsors like Yeo’s, Tiger, RHB Bank and many more are lining up. Player transfers and new signings help to build up the atmosphere, with the headlines carefully choreographed to ensure the heat.

There are also rumours of Brunei DPMM FC, a Bruneian football club and another castaway of M-League will be playing in the S-League this year. The club’s website seems to be pretty sure about it, though S-League portal remain silent.

Whatever it may be, the Brunei DPMM FC’s desire to join S-League is the proof of the league’s attraction. Geographical issue surely is the main constraint here and the plan most likely not going to work, but enough to set the alarm in FAM.

What if Johor Pasir Gudang one day decided to play in the S-League instead? Or a professional club emerge in Johor Bahru to compete in the S-League? The causeway rivalries between Singapore and Johor will make any football fans in these two areas to salivate in full anticipation. And the promise of better management, all out professionalism makes the package more interesting to any clubs from Johor who wish to cross over.

To summarise it, M-League is slowly losing to S-League and so is Malaysian football in comparison to Singapore. Back in 1994, it was a bold decision by FAS to pull out of M-League and venture into the unknown territory of running their own football league. Fifteen years later, they can safely say they have made the right decision.

The league is going stronger than ever and Singaporean football seems to be improving. Sceptics may tend to disagree, but then FAS can always lean back and say “Look across the strait and the sorry state of Malaysian football”.


Friday, February 6, 2009

We Split Responsibility And We Share The Blames

The minister and the sultan: Clueless couple

At least that is how it seems when FAM President, Sultan Ahmad Shah welcomed the decision by the Sports Ministry to adopt U-19 Malaysian team, popularly known as Harimau Muda (Young Tigers).

“We did the programmes before but could not continue due to financial constraints,” said Sultan Ahmad Shah, whose 25 years tenure as the president saw FAM receiving RM300 million in sponsorship from tobacco company Dunhill from the year 1997 to 2005.

“It cost around RM40 million annually to organise tournaments at grassroots level but FAM sponsorship revenue is only RM19million,” added Sports Minister Ismail Sabri who will be managing the Harimau Muda squad soon.

The Ministry of Football was quick to bring out our ever trusted abacus and simple mathematic calculation shows that RM300 million from 1997 to 2005 equal to RM37.5 million annually, plenty enough for football development at senior and junior levels.

But what actually happened to the RM300 million given generously by Dunhill?

Poorly managed grassroots level tournament which now ceased to exist, a top flight league which suffer from constant changes and a national football team that performs well on a downward spiral.

Surely something is wrong with our national football governing body?

“We should not point fingers and put the blame solely on FAM,” said Ismail Sabri further, gently reminding that the next time Malaysian football enter another episode of humiliation we can also channel our frustration to his ministry.

Maybe the decision to split the responsibility, FAM managing the senior side while Sports Ministry taking the junior team, has been made to serve either of these two purposes.

One, to lessen the burden on the shoulder of our vain and worryingly clueless Football Association of Malaysia.

Or number two, to ensure when thing goes wrong again with our football, FAM will have partner in the Sports Ministry to absorb all the blame, aggravation and anger from Malaysians.

All credit goes to the sultan and the minister for this marvellous idea.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Geniuses Of Khairy Jamaluddin

The Ministry has been rather silence these few weeks, preferring to be the observer as events unfold in the local football scene.

Not anymore. After all the Sultan’s grieves and promise of change, what the FAM managed to offer to all Malaysians is this:

“FAM’s role will be mainly conducting more courses for coaches and referees besides managing the M-League,” was all Khairy Jamaluddin, Vice President, could say after meeting Sports Minister Ismail Sabri yesterday.

But isn’t that what the FAM has been doing many years ago, ever since association football been brought into Malaysia by the British colonials?

Or perhaps then the bigwigs in FAM finally came to their sense and decided the only way to improve Malaysian football is by conducting more classes for coaches and referees and to continue managing a league that do not resemble any form of association football?

Or could it be that after years trying to improve Malaysian football, FAM conclude maybe it is better to train more coaches to fire later or make more referees to supply the more successful leagues in neighbouring countries?

Or FAM is happier to continue managing the M-League, losing money and fans much quicker than a national player manage one lap of the pitch so they can siphon more of the tax payers’ money from the government?

The Ministry can only ponder on the geniuses of one Khairy Jamaluddin.


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