Beyond who should run NFDP, AMD, lie questions about players’ contracts, education, diet, and motivation

Gambang – located some 220km east of Kuala Lumpur – is widely touted as the ‘factory’ churning out Malaysia’s young football talents.

The Mokhtar Dahari Academy (AMD), named after the legendary Malaysian striker who earned a reputation as being among Asia’s best in the 1970s and 1980s, is located here, and houses some of the finest young talents in the nation.

Many of the youngsters, some of whom have yet to hit 17, are already being poached by Malaysian Super League teams. This, despite the beating they received while playing in the recent Asian Football Confederation Under-17 tournament in Thailand.

Malaysia lost 4-0 to Yemen, 3-0 to the host team, and managed to edge Laos 2-1 in the final match, ending their campaign in Pathum Thani by finishing third in the group.

While their capabilities among their peers in the region are open to debate, the boys ‘manufactured’ at AMD remain among the best of the best in Malaysia.

‘Let FAM take over NFDP, AMD’

The FA of Malaysia (FAM) is the governing body of the sport and is affiliated with the world body FIFA. As such, the onus should be on the national body to develop football.

However, the constant failures over the decades have turned this once-feared Asian giant into a side that struggles constantly, even at the Southeast Asian Games. Malaysia’s pathetic run continued at this year’s SEA Games in Cambodia after  Harimau Malaya were booted out in the group stage.

This led to the government taking an aggressive stand, to develop the sport at the grassroots level – a slap to the faces of the national body and the state football associations.

In 2011, then Youth and Sports minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek tasked his deputy, Datuk Seri Razali Ibrahim, to spearhead a new football programme called the National Football Development Programme (NFDP).

Under its current structure, the NFDP and AMD have the Youth and Sports Ministry, National Sports Council, and the FA of Malaysia overseeing them, with government funds being pumped into their initiatives.

Millions of ringgit have been injected into NFDP and AMD since then, with many questioning the returns.

Just like the failed Vision 2020, many wondered if NFDP and AMD could truly help FAM achieve its bullish F:30 plan, including making Malaysia among the top five teams in Asia by 2030.

Those in the scene know that FAM has had its eyes on the NFDP and AMD (rather, the government funding that comes with the two products) for a long time. Murmurs to that effect were heard as early as  2018, too.

Razali made a sound point regarding the programme, as documented by Twentytwo13, the same year.

“The focus should be on developing players, to facilitate FAM. We must remember that it is FAM that will field a team at international tournaments, not the government,” Razali had said then.

This was echoed by FAM technical director Scott O’Donell recently, when he reportedly said that NFDP and AMD should come under FAM’s sole purview.

The ministry does not have football experts. So, why is it eager to run a multi-million ringgit programme dedicated to just one sport that is not even a gold-medal contender on the regional and international fronts?

Why is the ministry eager to face the firing squad, when it should be FAM?

The eagerness to ride on the sport’s popularity locally is evident. Football, over the years, has always been seen as a tool to win votes at the state and federal levels.

The same can be said about airing local football matches on big screens, which should rightfully be carried out by the participating Malaysian league teams as part of their fan engagement and sponsor activation initiatives. Not by the ministry.

It remains to be seen if the Youth and Sports Ministry has the political will to release NFDP and AMD to the guardian of the sport.

Money, money, money

Many of the young talents who are part of AMD come from humble beginnings. For some, having a meal beyond what is served at the cafeteria, is a luxury.

It is no surprise that money, eventually, becomes the primary motivation. Universally, sports have been an outlet, an escape out of poverty, especially in many developing, and Third World countries.

However, the ‘poaching’ issue has become a talking point, as players, who have yet to graduate, are already being offered salaries better than university graduates who had just entered the job market.

Those who offer such deals argue that they are providing a lifeline to these players, thereby rubbishing talks that one can’t make money from playing football.

But there are also those who argue that the ‘courtship’ should only begin after the players graduate in November, or at least, two months before they leave AMD. This is to ensure that the players remain committed to the cause, and not avoid giving their 100 per cent for fear of picking up injuries and losing out when they eventually play for their clubs.

The AMD is also turning out to be a general academy for clubs in Malaysia. Instead of the state-based teams developing their own players, poaching AMD graduates seems to be a faster and cheaper alternative. This is good for the players, promising them careers after AMD, but at the macro level, the talent pool is limited, if not shrinking.

Shouldn’t TVET be offered instead?

AMD talents are offered International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). While this looks great on paper, the ability of the students to adapt to the subjects – which are taught in English – and their passing rates, have become a talking point.

One suggestion to ensure that these students are not left behind is for technical and vocational education training (TVET) to be offered as well. The students then will have the skills that will improve their chances when entering the workforce – after retiring from the sport, or after being forced to quit early due to unforeseen circumstances (ie. injuries, family commitment, etc).

For the longest time ever, Malaysia had been advocating for technical and vocational training, but has still not worked on TVET’s perceived image. Given this government’s renewed interest in TVET, this is something the Youth and Sports Ministry should look into until it decides who should rightfully run AMD.

Nevertheless, some have done well for themselves. Alias Alan, who was part of AMD’s first batch, graduated from Universiti Teknologi Mara with a diploma in Sports and Recreation Management earlier this year.

Eating right starts at home

In 2018, food, or the lack of it, become a major issue at AMD. It was revealed then that players were only served food thrice daily, instead of six times a day. And the quality of the food was questionable.

It is understood that better food is being served now. But what the players consume at home, during their early, formative years, is equally crucial.

Some of the players admitted that their staple food at home was just rice, soya sauce, eggs, or a piece of fish, on a good day. Then there’s the occasional fast food.

While for some, it’s purely economics and the cost of living that forced them and their families to opt for the less healthier option, for others, the poor eating habits and higher consumption of sweet foods stem from the lack of education in nutrition at an early age.

This, in turn, results in stunting in some cases, and obesity in others.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, the obesity and overweight prevalence rates among children from B40 families stood at 15.6 per cent, and 15.4 per cent respectively. In comparison, the obesity and overweight prevalence rates among urban children stood at 15.3 per cent, and 15.4 per cent respectively.

The on-going rising cost of living will also play a contributing factor, as families will be forced to feed their children with cheaper, but unhealthy alternatives, to keep them full.

What’s your motivation?

For the children, the ability to play football daily is their motivation. Until, of course, they realise that money – and a whole lot of it – can be made. As there is no salary cap, the amount offered to the players, varies. Some are already pocketing the money, at least a quarter of their monthly wages, months before they start with their new club.

Some are motivated to help their families. Others are motivated to purchase their favourite JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) cars the minute they start wearing a club jersey.

As for FAM, the motivation should be overseeing development programmes at the grassroots, and that includes the elite few under the NFDP and AMD. But the national body cannot expect to enjoy government funding. It also needs to raise the bar.

As for the Youth and Sports Ministry, it needs to ask itself what is its true motivation – to draw up policies that will benefit youths and the sports eco-system in Malaysia for the masses, or to carry on pleasing certain quarters by making popular decisions, hoping to get buy-ins and win votes as the nation faces an unprecedented and unpredictable political landscape.