Football is always a favourite topic for many of us. We talk about a lot about foreign soccer - the players, tournaments and other related matters. Some space is given to talk about the local scene and often we end up critizing the national association, the coach or even the state associations.
In Malaysia, some sports can get the lime light from time to time. But the fact remains, almost everyone wants to hear about football.
I normally refrain from commenting about football because there are so many commentators and experts already doing it. I believe this is proof of just how popular soccer is.
There are many reasons as to why football is not doing well and I am sure we have all read or heard about it. But, when I look back I find that there were times when our nation had the opportunity to see some changes taking place, but we were not serious and missed the chance.
When Sultan Ahmad Shah took over as President of FAM in 1984, he had a vision to transform and make football a sucess story. A couple of months after taking charge, Tuanku announced in London the appointment of Datuk Paul Mony Samuel as executive secretary and talked about his plans for Malaysian football.
The so called press conference was attended by Berita Harian's Zian Johari and me. Soon after, FAM went through many administrative changes and this includes the bringing of foreign experts to help upgrade the coaching, training and refereering departments.
One of them was Richard Bate (picture), a staff coach at FA England, He was appointed FAM's Technical Director in 1992. Bate changed the coaching set-up, made proposals for changes at the state academies which were not performing because of poor selection of coaches and also improved on coach education.
At one point he was asked to handle the national team and after scouting around he selected a group of players and dropped some star players. He was not willing to tolerate bad-attitudes and wanted players who can think.
That became an issue and Bate, realising that he was wasting his time, decided to pack his bags and leave. I feel that was a lost opportunity. If he had the support, the changes could have impacted the national team for some time.
A while later, a match fixing scandal erupted and the players he discarded were among those barred from playing football. If only someone had heard what Bate had to say, things could have been different. Bate is now the Technical Director of Canadian Football Association.
I believe another missed opportunity was when Claude Le Roy was the national coach. In his own way the Frenchman was trying to bring some changes but after the 1995 SEA Games in Chiangmai, Thailand he made up his mind to quit.
Le Roy was not happy with the attitude of some FAM officials who were more concerned with what the media were writting rather than to listen to him. I believe that was another case where we lost the chance.
I believe there were others who also gave crtitical inputs but because it would have disrupted the flow of bad habits, there were shelved.
To be sucessful in football, having the right attitude is important. A right attitude will allow us to change, improve and more importantly, have the capability win tournaments.
Recently I had a chat with national coach K. Rajagopal at his office in Wisma FAM. He seemed very pleased with the team's performances with Manchester United. "Did you see the match...do you know how Singapore fared against Liverpool," he asked.
I told him that Thailand drew with Liverpool and he said Thailand have always been better and they have won the SEA Games competition at least nine times.
True enough, coach. After the 1980s, many teams could beat or were capable of beating Malaysia. Even the Phillipines defeated us 1-0 and we have major problems when facing Vietnam and Laos.
I asked about the new rulings on 2014 World Cup qualifiers where weaker teams have to go through a longer route. "Let's not talk about World Cup. We have to win at ASEAN first before thinking about World Cup," said the hard working coach. I felt there was no need to talk further.
Malaysian football needs visionaries. People who can look to the World Cup and win tournaments along the way. We may take a long time to qualify, but we can make an impact if our priorities are right. Without vision soccer will perish.