Soleen Al-Zoubi assured a free hand in Malaysia’s women’s football, but only time will tell

Soleen Al-Zoubi has a lot on her plate.

Not only is she expected to chart the fortunes of Malaysia’s women’s national football team, she also has to restructure the sport at all levels.

It is certainly a Herculean task for the Jordanian, having been named the national women’s head coach and head of the women’s football unit at the FA of Malaysia (FAM) on Dec 1. She will have to play Wonder Woman – minus the glam, pomp and superpowers.

Her first few words to the local press were: “Terima kasih kerana hadir” – thanking the media in Malaysia’s official language for attending her first press conference last Friday.

She spoke about her short-term plans and her love for Kuala Lumpur’s “vibe”.

Soleen broke into a smile when representatives from the national body were asked if she would be given a free hand in running her programmes.

“We will give Soleen everything (she needs). There’s no such thing as interference,” was FAM general secretary Noor Azman Rahman’s immediate reply.

“She has the support of the chairman (of women’s football in FAM) and even the president (Datuk Hamidin Amin). We will give her a free hand to plan and to structure the development of women’s football.”

The event took place at the auditorium located on the third floor of Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya, Selangor. It marked the first time Soleen was formally introduced to the members of the Malaysian press.

Judging from Noor Azman’s tone, the national body finally realises that it had severely overlooked women’s football. He went on to praise FAM’s women’s football committee chairman Datuk Suraya Yaacob for her eagerness in wanting to promote the ‘beautiful game’ among young girls and women.

Soleen, who looked sharp in a black pantsuit, was flanked by Noor Azman and Suraya during the 30-odd minute press conference. Many questions were fielded, including her long-term plans for Malaysian football. They were answered with much optimism.

Noor Azman, however, stopped short of revealing the length of Soleen’s contract, stressing it was “private and confidential”. But he hinted that she was in it for the long haul.

Suraya, who recently stepped down as the Kedah executive councillor in charge of public works, water supply and water resources, and energy, was diplomatic in her answers regarding Soleen’s role in promoting the sport at the lower levels.

When asked if Soleen should be working closely with the Education Ministry to promote the sport in schools, Suraya pointed out that several sports schools in the country had girls’ teams, and that Soleen would play coordinator between the FAM and the various ministries.

Noor Azman chipped in, stating that FAM had met with representatives from the Education Ministry and had proposed that girls’ football be contested at the Malaysia Schools Sports Council meet.

It remains to be seen if the ministry will pick up the suggestion.

Armed with an Asian Football Confederation ‘A’ Coaching Certificate, Soleen saw some of the women players in action, two weeks before she clocked in for the first time at Wisma FAM.

She was impressed by their “passion and fighting spirit” but admitted there’s still much to do, and the best way to do it is to get them to play competitively on a regular basis.

“I don’t know if I can already say this now, but we plan to organise a top-tier women’s football league that will run for six months. There will be home and away matches,” Soleen said.

She also got a close look at some of the players in action during the Regional Women’s Football Festival held at FAM’s grounds yesterday.

Soleen did say that Malaysian women footballers enjoyed more opportunities than their Jordanian counterparts.

Her short-term goal is to increase the number women footballers. And to do so, she pleaded for support, including from the media.

For the long term, she plans to grow the game and to produce quality players. Her biggest mission would naturally be the SEA Games next year.

“The ideal situation is for football and futsal players to be separated. We will look into it,” she added.

“We have to have an identity for the national team. That’s the focus. The national team has to have its own style of play, like building from behind, the style of attack and defence.”

All this will work if there is a buy-in from the stakeholders. They include the state FAs that have ignored grassroots development and women’s football.

To this, Suraya said: “We have been waiting and waiting, and because of that, we have fallen behind.”

“There were those who complained about the structure (of the women’s football league) but if we don’t start, we won’t know our weaknesses.

“It will be a challenge for the state FAs and clubs to field women’s teams. It will be expensive. But it has to happen.”

Soleen may be assured of being able to do things her way. But only time will tell if she will truly be given a free hand, or end up kowtowing to administrators with little knowledge of the sport.