Almost a week ago the national U-23 team defeated Vietnam 1-0 in the finals of the SEA Games men's football tournament. The win, courtesy of an own goal, ended a 20 year wait for Malaysia to become champions.
A lot is being said about the victory and probably the whole football fraternity are either claiming credit or claiming to be a part of the celebration. People walking along the corridors of Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) are smiling and in a joyful mood. For them, Santa was in Vientiane last Thursday.
The win caused people to react in different ways, some even saying that with this win, Malaysia's ranking will improve! Here I would like to just put some facts before us so that we do not get carried away and, in the process, cause soccer to further decline.
The first fact, of course is that the team won the gold medal and obviously the have to be congratulated on that. The second, is that this is a South East Asian tournament and by winning, our team has proven to be of that level. Let's remember that.
The third fact is, the result would be different if the same teams play again next month. Therefore, the Malaysian team peaked at that time while the others are not far behind, or many be in front.
This is a U-23 tournament, and the rankings would not be effected.
However, the reality is that, this win should inspire the people in power to move ahead with proper planning and making the necessary drastic changes, especially in the mentality of officials in football.
This win should be seen as an encouragement to change, not a victory to talk about for too long. FAM has to make an study of the performance of the national U-23 team and the players and see if they can become strong contenders at Asian level. Do we have a system to see our footballers succeed at Asian level? We have to stop lying to ourselves.
Lets accept this fact, SEA Games level is nothing to shout about. It can become a wonderful thing if the sleeping machinery is awakened. The next tournaments on the list are pre-Asian Cup and of the course the Asian Games.
Let's hope FAM will see the need to think "out of the box" and make sure that soccer continues to enjoy fans support.
And, let's not forget, soon Laos, Vietnam and Thailand and possibly Singapore would be top contenders in Asia. Why? Because they have shed their old image and now are willing to change for the sake of football. Politics will have to move aside.
In 18 months time, the next SEA Games will be held in Indonesia. Do we have a team to defend the gold medal? As expected, the U-23 were upgraded to national team. What tournaments will they play in?
If we want to go above the South East Asian level, we need to have a high profile foreign coach, at least for now. The coach should lead the team and oversee the development of other age group teams.