It hit a raw nerve. The expression on his face said it all.
Peter de Roo quickly put down the cup of coffee and bit his lips before leaning forward on the sofa.
“My 12-year-old son almost gave up football in Malaysia,” he said, anger visible in his eyes.
“He is crazy about football. But what happened at an academy here almost killed his spirit. I don’t ever want to see any child go through the same thing.”
The Dutchman, who played professional football in the Netherlands before becoming technical director, explained that his child went through a training regime that forgot the element of fun. His child and team mates were put through a system which is all about winning instead of learning and exploring football.
“When you are nine, 10, 11 and even 12, it’s always about having fun. Of course there is the learning experience and of course any kid that age would want to win.
“But to be told that only key players will see action in crucial matches … to only play a limited time on the field. That goes against football at that level. At that level you play all your players, you give them equal playing time.
“If a coach starts having key players, those players will end up with inflated egos while the other players will feel inferior. That’s the last thing you want to do with children of that age.”
De Roo serves as the FA of Malaysia technical director, with experience in Europe and Australia under his belt. But when he sees his son in action, he is a father.
“I had a parent telling me his son was holding the ball too much. He knew who I was and wanted me to say something about his son’s tactics. I told him to let it go. Just let it go.”
De Roo, however, was quick to add that he did not blame the coach.
“The coach was educated in a certain manner, a manner that needs to be corrected. The coach is placed under immense pressure by parents who fail to realise football at that age is about having fun. It’s the education, or lack of it.”
“After every game or training session, the only thing I ask my son in the car is ‘Did you have fun?’ All I want to know is that if he had fun. Because if he has fun, he will pick up stuff on his own, experience stuff on his own and remember them.”
He was quick to add it was not just a Malaysian problem but happened elsewhere too, adding some 50% of children worldwide drop out from organised sport after the age of 12.
“What you get is not the best in the country, but the best of what’s left.”
“We’ve seen similar episodes in countries like Australia. But Football Federation Australia was quick to address this by going to the grassroots to educate clubs, coaches and even parents about football.”
And to him, coaching education is important even for those coaching top tier teams.
“The Super League is a reflection of the quality of coaches. I’m not saying the coaches are to be blamed. It’s the system they have been brought up in.
“It is as if Malaysian football has stood still for 20 years. While the world has progressed, football here has not. The dangerous bit is when certain people adopt the know-it-all mentality.”
But de Roo insisted he is here not to single out or blame any party, stressing it is collective responsibility. He also stressed repeatedly how his intentions have been misconstrued or taken out of context.
“I’m not here to make enemies. I’m not here to make friends too. I’m here to help Malaysian football. I respect all but I’ll call a spade a spade.”
He said during his first three months here, he kept quiet and observed the football ecosystem at all levels.
“It’s always easy to say a lot of things but we must always be mindful of the system, the culture, the environment and the people.
“You can’t just take something from elsewhere and expect it to work here. Malaysia is unique and it should rightfully have its own system. The Japanese have their own system, the Koreans too and it’s the same in Europe.”
However, de Roo pointed out that football in Malaysia is played in a reactive manner with some teams often “parking the bus”. To him, being reactive is all about waiting for opponents to make mistakes instead of creating opportunities.
“It’s hard to explain why (reactive football is adopted) as it’s a culmination of factors. In international football, you need quick decision-making and tactics.
“But (national head coach) Tan Cheng Hoe has got it right and this is evident in the AFF Cup. I judged his team based on their performances, not results.”
Malaysia lost 3-2 to Vietnam in the two-leg final at last year’s AFF Cup.”
As such, it is only natural for coaching education to play a vital role in FAM’s F:30 plan – a roadmap launched on Oct, 31 2018, in a bid to develop a world class national team by 2030.
For de Roo, the insights provided in the F:30 will see the development of more coaches, especially at the grassroots and more coaching instructors.
The younger generation will naturally play a bigger role as new technologies and advanced sports science will accompany their quest in moulding a larger pool of young talents.
Coaching education would play a huge role in getting every stakeholder on track.
But as de Roo rightfully summed it up, “football equals fun” and by injecting fun, more people will eventually be involved passionately in the beautiful game.