Police reports, alleged interferences mar grassroots football programme in Johor

Football fans in Malaysia are rooting for Harimau Malaya as the national team plays its first Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup group match against Jordan this week (Jan 16, 1.30am Malaysian time).

Yet, the action outside the field involving the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) in Johor Bahru seems to be a talking point among certain quarters in recent days. It even led to a “meeting” involving several FA of Malaysia (FAM) officials and former internationals at an eatery in Bangsar on Jan 5 that lasted some two-and-a-half hours.

The matter in question is not new, with allegations of unprofessional conduct by those involved in the grassroots programme, the issue of the monthly fees paid by parents that were allegedly transferred to a bank account belonging to an individual, the non-payment to a caterer for services rendered, and interference by parents in deciding who should coach the respective age groups, surfacing several months ago.

Faizal Asmar, a former footballer whose two children were involved in NFDP Johor Bahru, lodged several police reports, between August and October of last year, regarding some of the issues raised. Copies of the police reports were handed to Twentytwo13.

Certain quarters have rubbished the talks. They also pointed out that Faizal could be “bitter”, as his children did not enjoy much playing time with their respective teams. Faizal admitted that his children did not enjoy much action on the field, but insisted that it wasn’t about that. He simply wanted to “betulkan keadaan” (make things right).

“We talk about Malaysian football being professional, so professionalism should start from the grassroots,” said Faizal, when met on Thursday evening.

“I have many parents who will back me up. But some parents would rather keep quiet for fear of their children being put in cold storage, while others are dictating who should coach which age group. This isn’t right. This should be the prerogative of the management, and the management shouldn’t cave in to such demands.

“This is the NFDP. As such, every child should be given sufficient playing minutes. If players are not given enough time on the field, then what’s the use of having so many players in the set-up?”

Faizal said he met several FAM officials and former footballers on Thursday to discuss the matter.

He also wondered if the same had happened in the other states.

“There are many other former footballers who support me. We need to look at NFDP. We must also look into the career progression of the select few who are part of the programme. Where do they go upon graduating from the programme? Shouldn’t the management take steps to place them with teams? Unless the players just aren’t good enough for the local league … which then raises the question of the quality of players being churned out by the state NFDPs.”

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, the NFDP.

Under its current structure, the NFDP and Akademi Mokhtar Dahari (AMD) have the Youth and Sports Ministry, the National Sports Council, and the FAM overseeing them, with government funds being pumped into their initiatives.

There were suggestions for FAM to take over NFDP and AMD programme and, being the governing body, it should rightfully do so. However, the national body does not have the financial means, and expects taxpayers’ money to continue to be pumped in, to fund the project.

The situation involving NFDP Johor Bahru, as described by Faizal, is similar to that faced by several football academies in the country. From parents signing petitions to retain a certain coach, to favouring victories instead of allowing footballers adequate playing minutes, these have somewhat stunted the development of the sport in Malaysia.

The country stands at 130 in the FIFA world rankings, behind regional powerhouses Vietnam (94) and Thailand (113). Malaysia continues to struggle at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, having last won the gold medal in 2011.

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