German football may be too efficient, too clinical, too devoid of art and too tactical for some of us to appreciate. Or it may just be that the German national side have always been the bogey team to a particular footballing nation you happen to profess support for. But as much as the English Premiership touts itself as the world’s best league, I think watching the Bundesliga may prove to be quite a fruitful exercise for fellow football junkies. (Not quite sure if Astro show it in Malaysia, but ESPN UK telecasts live matches).
Reason being is that they have almost done, as a country, what Alan Hansen famously quoted was the impossible: winning, with kids. Their World Cup third-placed team had an average age of 24 years. They do not stake claim on having the youngest player overall, but their youngest played had the highest impact factor on the overall tournament: enter stage left, Thomas Mueller. Not yet 21, the young man carted home not one but two accolades: top scorer and best young player.
Something is going right with German youth football development . Malaysia may not be in a position to copy it just yet, but maybe the FAM should consider feeding some of our younger talent into the system. Especially since there has been a unique Malaysian touch in the development of players such as Thomas Mueller.
Truth be told, apart from thoughts of when it is time to go home from work and why is this bus/car/lorry intent on running me over, one of the two other things that occupy my navel gazing hours is the possibility of having Malaysian football scale great heights. I refuse to accept the fact that as a footballing nation, we have reached our peak and it is now downhill. I refuse to see the Malaysian U23′s victory against their South Korean counterparts as a fluke, like when Burnley beat Manchester United. I want to see that as a sign of hope for the future, but am I both foolishly optimistic and misguided? I admit I am out of touch with the development of local football, so I put some questions to a respected former ‘senior’ at NSTP, Rizal Hashim, who was at the Malay Mail Sports Desk when I was a stringer at Jalan Riong.
One particular line of inquiry that I was following up was the presence of Malaysian footballers playing abroad. In the same way students who studied abroad brought a different – not necessarily better, mind, but different, nonetheless – dimension to ways of thinking or doing things, footballers playing abroad are also able to contribute in a similar way. So I started counting the number of recent Malaysian players who have plied their trade, however short, abroad. The list I managed to compile – with Rizal’s help – is neither long nor overly impressive:
Liew Kim Tu – Germany
Lim Teong Kim – Hertha Berlin
Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli – FC Strasbourg / Fr Haguenau
Juzaili Samion – FC Strasbourg / Fr Haguenau
Fadzli Saari – SV Wehen
Rudie Ramli – SV Wehen
Titus Palani went to France to pursue a career via the youth development system there, but I have not been able to ascertain whether he is still at Villenoy, has moved on or no longer active.
Nak tunggu Malaysia masuk World Cup…
Two things worth mentioning here: first, only Lim Teong Kim and Liew Kim Tu used their own initiative to seek a career abroad; the other players obtained placements with FAM’s help one way or another. (In the case of Akmal Rizal, Rizal Hashim put the case forward with the help of FAM and their links with former Malaysian national coach, Claude le Roy). The issue here is that without FAM’s help, there seems to be little effort on anyone’s part to try and play abroad.
I put it to Rizal that it reeks of the subsidy mentality – that if it wasn’t for the government or governmental agencies helping out, then you are a tad too comfortable with the status quo. Rizal did not disagree, but he also added that a major problem is the lack of professionalism in our game – whether it be the media, the governance, the profession … it is wide reaching and deep-rooted.
Second: we seem to focus much on the European game and trying to get stints there, without really trying to establish ourselves in Asia. Granted, leagues in Asia are nowhere near as good or developed as those in Europe, but there is one aspect of being the travelling player that most people discount – that of shifts in culture and climate.
In his book Futebol Alex Bellos opens the first chapter by charting the loneliness that is the life of Brazilian imports plying their trade in the furthest of outposts : the Faroe Islands. Used to a warm climate and a carnival atmosphere, frozen pitches and dour fishermen communities were the price these players paid for a professional contract abroad.
Perhaps there is merit in testing the waters closer to home, where the food is more palatable (people in Asia eat rice!) and the culture is more tolerable. And when homesick, air travel is more affordable. But of the players in the national team at the moment, none are playing anywhere else in Asia apart from Malaysia. Ironic, given that when we were importing foreign players, Asian players often made the line-up.
One could argue that we may not want to send our players abroad because other Asian leagues are of a lower quality, but based on AFC Asian league rankings, the Malaysian league ranks above only Hong Kong, Oman and Bahrain. Ahead of us we have the leagues of Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, if venturing to Singapore is too close for comfort. If we’re not good enough to play in the Vietnamese professional league… ah, we can’t be that bad, can we?!
Maybe it’s just about representation. Our players are managed or ‘owned’ by state associations, and the system in place right now may not have that one person that annoys the hell out of all and sundry, but essential in getting their wards the right deal: the agent.
I have not yet heard of football agents representing players in Malaysia, who work in the interest of the player. I may be (and often am) wrong, of course. One clearly cannot expect the State FAs to showcase their wares to potential interested parties – there is a conflict of interest inherent; and one cannot rely on the FAM to do everything.
So maybe there is a career path for those mamak-shop pundits. They can talk the game, they can wheel and deal a discount from the mamak… why not make money from it? Hehe.
Of course this goes back to Rizal’s earlier assertion: that there no professionalism in the game at any level at the moment. Is there hope for the management of team sports to improve, I asked him. His reply? Forget football. Focus on individual sports instead. And looking at the achievements we have amassed in squash and badminton, I believe he’s quite right.