Hey Joe, you’re Malaysia’s next football star

Is it Jo or Joe?

It’s Joe, said FA of Malaysia (FAM) general secretary Stuart Ramalingam candidly as he walked along the corridor on the third floor of Wisma FAM yesterday.

Minutes earlier, Stuart and FAM assistant general secretary Abang Zulkarnain Abang Abdurahman provided a detailed explanation to the media about the latest developments in the national football scene, including the transition from FAs to FCs, and youth development.

After decades of heartbreak and fending off criticism, FAM is bent on making radical changes. And the journey starts by admitting things were not done right in the past, especially concerning grassroots football.

Abang Zulkarnain was honest in his assessment.

While pointing at a graphic of an inverted pyramid that shows a competition-heavy top for the seniors compared to limited events at the younger levels, he said: “If the Egyptians had made the pyramids this way, we wouldn’t be seeing any of them today.”

FAM is now eager to turn things around by having a solid base and a refined top. And it plans to do so by searching for Joe.

Who is Joe?

“Joe is a name that cuts across ethnicity. We want to ensure Joe remains on our radar at all times. We have discussed ways of keeping Joe in the system,” said Stuart.

FAM is focusing on eight components – children, parents, private leagues, schools, National Football Development Programme (NFDP), universities (public and private, state FAs and M-League – in its quest to build a larger pool of young talents.

“We don’t want players to be left out or excluded from any tournament. We don’t want to see the same players all the time,” said Abang Zulkarnain.

“There are inadequate matches. To be honest, we don’t know how much is adequate and thus we are speaking to more people to find the balance.”

Abang Zulkarnain used his home state Sarawak as an example.

“We have the Sarawak Cup. It runs over five days and some teams play in the morning and evening and that’s it. That’s the only competition they take part in throughout the year. That’s inadequate.”

He added there was no clear pathway and that the challenge now is to implement these ideas. He was also right to highlight that the state FAs often look at the senior squads competing in the M-League and have little focus on grassroots in their respective states.

Stuart added on later, explaining that the current schooling landscape has changed.

“We don’t want kids being forced to choose where they should go at a young age, at the age of 12. What if Joe wants to learn in an international school or be homeschooled? What if Joe’s parents don’t want to send him to Akademi Mokhtar Dahari? We don’t want to see Joe drop out of our radar,” Stuart said.

“Joe is our example of searching for a football talent who could be the next (Datuk) Mokhtar Dahari.”

Stuart echoed Abang Zulkarnain’s concerns in getting the buy-in from the stakeholders, especially state FAs.

“We’ve been having talks with the state FAs but our concern is if there is a change of guard when the FAs transition to FCs. We hope the new office bearers will also be receptive to this initiative of building a larger pool of talents among our youths.”

Since FAM enjoys a good relationship with the Education Ministry, shouldn’t the Education Minister, instead of any other minister besides the Youth and Sports Minister, be part of the football ecosystem in Malaysia?

To that Stuart replied, “We have constant conversations with ranking officials from the Education Ministry and they are basically the representatives of the minister. We’ve got a wonderful relationship with the ministry.”