Malaysian Football – What Now? – Part 1

Our hearts go out to the Malaysian football players who were recently physically attacked by perpetrators whom we hope will be caught and brought to justice soon. Our prayers to the players and their families and hope they recover fast and get back to the game

We have been down this road before, many times and last month in April saw Malaysia take another turn for the worse, losing all three football matches in the Asian Under-23 Championship held in Qatar.

Malaysia lost all their Group D matches to Uzbekistan 2-0, Vietnam 2-0 and Kuwait 2-1. Add this to the Asian Cup in Qatar in January losing to Jordan 4-0, Bahrain 1-0 and drawing with South Korea 3-3, finishing bottom of the group just like in the Asian Under-23 Championship. Yet here, in the case of the Asian Cup, the national team were treated like heroes despite finishing bottom of the group.

Youth & Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh even gave an incentive… (reward ?..not sure what it is but she says it is not a reward) to FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) for their efforts in Qatar. She defended the the RM5 million allocation (stating it was not a reward) saying that Malaysia qualified for the Asian Cup on merit after a long time and it was “To prepare for future competitions”.

Malaysian Football Nearly Missed Out

That maybe, but it was because the teams were increased from 16 to 24 and even at that, Malaysia nearly missed out. Giving an incentive after finishing bottom of the group is no way to encourage a sports federation, a PR perspective would have been better, say after a month of the Asian Cup debacle?

Sadek Mustaffa, a football critic and senior lecturer for sports science and recreation at UiTM was also critical of the reward and Datuk Dr. Pekan Ramli, who is the Higher Education Ministry Sports Sector Deputy Secretary also joined in. Dr Pekan said the public feels that the government is rewarding the national team for failure, and this is the cause of their negative reaction.

The timing of the RM5 million was also lost, rewarding them to finish bottom of the group, but the nation (well maybe some of the citizens) and by the looks of it the Sports Minister were swept by the euphoria of drawing with South Korea. While that is a one-off for South Korea, for Malaysia this will be spoken maybe for the next few decades just like the 1980 Olympic football Asia final. In that epic moment we beat South Korea 2-1 on aggregate and qualified for the Moscow Olympics.

We did not go for the Olympics because of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, instead Kuwait were willing to take our place and the rest as they say is history. FAM even targeted the 2014 World Cup and the failure was discussed in parliament in 2017.

Getting back to South Korea, they will get on with their lives and probably qualify for yet another World Cup and beat the likes of Germany as they did before. Malaysia meanwhile will pick up breadcrumbs like this and celebrate the mediocrity of it all and ignore results that are painful and live in denial, well at least that is what it looks like.

Doing Things Right Or Doing The Right Things?

What happened to various projects by FAM? Like the F-30 project? So an update on that, According to NST as reported on 11 November 2023 Malaysia have concluded phase one of this project and are now going into phase two.

At the FAM website the goals are more clear, it states in Bahasa Malaysia:

Peta hala tuju dengan tempoh 12 tahun itu dibahagi kepada tiga pelan strategik, iaitu fasa pertama dari tahun 2019 hingga 2022 untuk membina asas yang kukuh dari sudut tadbir urus, pertandingan dan pembangunan modal insan serta infrastruktur.

Basically it says that the first phase with the first four years of the 12 years, starts from 2019, which was from 2019-2022, in laying the foundation in administration, competitions, development and solid infrastructure. It goes on to the second phase which is from 2023-2026 and finally 2026 to 2030. It ends with Malaysia aiming to become a top five nation in football in Asia.

The KPI are all about qualifying for competitions, granted this is a big improvement from before, but are we doing things right or are we doing the rights things? We could choose a lot of things wrong strategically and look at that at micro levels and do it right and follow that KPI, it can be something that can lead to disaster strategically.

KPI

The KPI (Key Performance Index) seems to be more competition oriented and how did we address the first phase at grassroots level from 2019-2022 during the Covid period?

What did FAM do to rectify the football situation during that period? Should this project be extended further considering this was a world event nobody expected? There is a generation here that would have missed out on football or even dropped out of it.

Now getting back to the previous article in NST in 2023, Gianni Infantino the President of FIFA launched the second phase of this project in conjunction with FAM, but the question arises, with Covid being a stumbling block and player development stifled during this period.

How was the first period viewed by FAM and deemed to meet the project goals? Surely qualifying for the Asian Cup cannot be the barometer of measurement? What and how did we improve at the grassroots levels that is going to be the future and how did we manage to go around these issues? Yes, other countries suffered too, but personal goals are to compete with ourselves and is there a programme paper on how we achieved this during the first phase of 2019-2022? Instead FAM are moving towards the second phase.

In 2022 as reported in NST Datuk Haji Hamidin, President of FAM said In a separate development, the overall achievement of the first cycle of F:30 as of the second quarter of this year was a recorded 64 per cent and is expected to reach 68 per cent to 75 per cent by the end of the year.

He said the progress was due to improvement in all three main thrusts – governance with an achievement of 64 per cent, development (62 per cent) and competition, 66 per cent.

F:30, which also acts as a benchmark, was launched by FAM in October 2018 with the aim of becoming the five best footballing countries in Asia by 2030.

How did we achieve this during Covid? Development was 62 percent? This involves grassroots football and we were stunted during this period, is there another definition of development besides grassroots football? To be fair there is a PDF copy on FAM site, but the goals of the first phase need to be re-looked and this is not a blaming game, every organisation even Fortune 500 companies can make mistakes and YB Datuk Haji Hamidin is trying his best as others in FAM who to be fair have taken Malaysia to another level, however let us not go overboard.

The Signal And The Noise

Looking at rankings as KPI is misleading and we have now dropped further in the rankings after the Asian Cup, while Thailand and Indonesia played warm-up games with tough opponents with Indonesia playing Argentina, Malaysia played the likes of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to prepare for the Asian Cup to gain traction in the rankings. Indonesia and Thailand advanced to the round of 16 while Malaysia finished rock bottom in the group stage. We climbed up before the Asian Cup and after the Asian Cup we went down like in snake and ladders.

In Nate Silver’s book, The signal and the Noise, he talks about how estimations, stats, predictions and forecasts can be completely misinterpreted, in other words data being misrepresented. The book’s title is how we should see the signal for what it is and not be influenced so-much by noisy data, that basically can be misleading. Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data, Silver states :

Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too.

Though in the case of FAM it is not so complex, but the principle is the same, are we focusing too much on KPI of competitions and qualification at the international level and not looking at performance and what the data is actually showing? This after the number of countries for the Asian Cup was increased from 16 to 24. The F-30 paper seems strategic, but it should be more tactical, for instance in the national grassroots competition (Suparimau) for under-12 on each team on the field is nine players per team, this might be too much for the boys or girls as at this age the children’s brain are still being formulated and movement, stamina, spacial ability at various age groups are different.

Skills

The whole point at this age group should be expression of skills more touches on the ball and encouragement of dribbling and holding on to the ball and being creative, in other words focus on technique. This however is difficult with 18 players on the field and with only a handful of minutes for the players to play, so what exposure are the kids getting?

The late Mokhtar Dahari is still the undisputed all time great of Malaysian football and was one of the best in Asia – Wikipediapic

Add to the fact that I have seen coaches scolding the players, this adds to the players being under pressure to just get rid of the ball and the enjoyment of it is gone. When is the last time you saw a Malaysian player and got excited? Have you seen a player who can run in a mazy dribble and get the fans excited? If so why do we bring in foreign players and are they good enough? The last time I got excited with a player in Malaysia is Mokthar Dahari or the Malaysian national team in the 1980s or the Selangor team in that era.

These kids in grassroots football – they represent the future, so yes we did qualify for the competitions at Asian levels, but as stated earlier are we doing the right things or doing things right? I remember when I was studying for my diploma in marketing there was a case study in the 1980s about how a CEO of company selling black and white TVs was making lots of profits in Europe and beating the competition and ultimately becoming the leader in Europe for Television sets, he was sacked. Why? The other organisations were already getting ready with colour Television and had phased out most of the black and white TV sets, so this CEO was myopic in his thinking looking at the wrong things, it brings back to what Nate Silver said. – NMH

Coming up in Part 2 : Why was the quality of Malaysian football better before the professional era and how we can move forward

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