It was a bold but honest statement – an admission of sorts that the guardians of football in Malaysia have overlooked local talents due to the difficulties in reaching players.
FA of Malaysia (FAM) naturalisation programme committee chairman Datuk Wira Yusoff Mahadi’s statement, published in New Straits Times on June 30, got stakeholders wondering why Malaysia – with 32 million inhabitants on 330,000 km² land and blessed with good weather all year long – struggles to get quality players to don the national jersey.
He was quoted as saying FAM had overlooked “certain talent, even local talent” because of difficulties in reaching all the players.
The national team has been in the doldrums for years. In 2018, Harimau Malaya reached its lowest as it was ranked 178 by Fifa. As at June 11, Malaysia was ranked 154 in the world – behind Vietnam (94), Thailand (113), the Philippines (124) and Myanmar (136).
“I don’t know if he was misquoted or his words were taken out of context … perhaps he may now regret saying it. But it’s (Yusoff’s statement) not right,” said former international and national coach Datuk K. Rajagobal.
“It is the role of the state to develop and scout talents. But FAM seems to be more concerned with the national team. The state FAs and FAM must collaborate to develop football.”
Most state FAs struggle to organise their respective leagues let alone hold age-group competitions at district level. To most of these state FAs, their definition of development is through the Youth Cup and President’s Cup teams.
Funds, or rather the lack of it, have been a constant issue for the state FAs despite the evolution of the domestic league from amatuer to semi-professional and now professional over the decades.
This year, most teams have been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic as the M-League has been put on hold with plans to resume in September. Development has taken a back seat.
“Financially, everyone is struggling. Here’s where FAM can assist the state FAs by subsidising age-group competitions at district level. That’s the best way to scout for talents and this will also ensure the state teams have a role to play in nurturing these young talents,” he added.
Rajagobal said he was not totally against heritage or naturalised footballers playing for the country but stressed it shouldn’t be a shortcut to success.
“If we really scout and unearth our local talents, it will be beneficial to the country in the long run. Without doubt it is the state FAs that have to do it (development programme),” Rajagobal said, adding school competitions in the past were competitive.
There are also those of the view that the development of young talents is the job of the National Football Development Programme (NFDP). Yet, if state FAs push to organise more leagues and work with academies in the states, this would logically expand the pool of players further.
To that, Rajagobal said: “It’s 2020 … if you ask me how we should grow, we should rightfully grow from the schools, state, and then graduate to the national team.”