Thursday, November 27, 2008

Malaysia Expects

Many detractors are pre-empting the career demise of national coach B Sathianathan after the loss in the final of the Merdeka Cup and then against Myanmar recently in the semi-finals of the Royal Grand Challenge. Nonetheless, I hold that it still early days; it is worth remembering that B. Sathianathan took over from Norizan Bakar who was responsible for the disastrous outing in the AFC Cup October last year. Despite his experience in local football, Norizan had the same problem Louis van Gaal had with the Dutch team circa 2002 - he never gained the respect of the changing room. B Sathianathan on the other hand, is a talismanic figure, if not a fatherly one, in the eyes of star players like the twins, Azi Shahril, Subramaniam, Daudso Jamaluddin, Syed Adney and most in the team.

A rebuilding process also means injecting experience into the team that Rajagopal handed over to Sathia. Part of this process was the experience the players received when the team traveled to the UK and did well against the Manchester United Academy team and Stoke City. Simultaneously, this process also took the shape of the re-inclusion of in-form seniors who many wrote off after the AFC debacle - players like Shukor Adan and Zamani Misbah, before slowly reintroducing flair player Indraputra, ex-captain Khaironisam, overlapping leftback Irwan Fadli and the football journey man Nizaruddin Yusop. However many commenters and the football chattering classes are still not convinced that these senior players will add any value. The jury is still out with regards to the 2nd phase senior inclusions.

More recently, there have been other indications of progress to be proud of. The match against Chelsea displayed the tactical maturity especially in the 1st half when the team stuck to the gameplan, and then in the Merdeka tournament showed the goalscoring vein of form, bar the finals of course.

As such, Sathia is the right man to rebuild the national team simply because he knows the psychiological and physical limitations of the players. And this man is not shy of discipline and determination either. He turns up at almost all the local league matches from coast to coast and draws inspiration and opinions from coaches, players, administrators and fans alike. In the high stakes game of of top flight football management, musical chairs and merry go rounds are common occurences. Like Arsenal however, we have to keep the faith with our own Monsieur Wenger. Malaysian's simply have to be patient to move ahead internationally and not forsake the house that Jack built.

The appetite for a regional trophy can only be fulfilled only if the fundamentals are there. We certainly have the talent as we can observe in the Harimau Muda squad which fields exceptional players like Fakhri, Hairiri, Gurusamy and Tan Yang Wei. Not to forget Bunyamin Umar , Farig Rashid and Azrol Azmi who has made National junior appearances and still manages to turn up for MyTeam on the weekends.

The National Team will never lose its traction in the hearts of Malaysians, and just maybe, the AFF Suzuki Cup could be the turning point for Malaysian football. Hardcore football supporters like harimau and Kelab Penyokong Selangor have all made plans to the trip up north. Come 6 December Malaysia V Laos, all Malaysians will hold thier breaths, waiting for the goal net to rattle with Safee Sali celebrating with the other boys in tow. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Football is Politics

Over the past years, the state of Malaysian football has been
increasingly under scrutiny. With local league attendances dipping at an alarming rate and the quality on the pitch following suit, such fears appear justified.

The popular consensus is that in Malaysia, sports, and football in particular, should be free of politics. On the surface of it, this notion seems reasonable enough. Upon closer inspection however, the
notion appears to not hold water.

First things first, State FAs' financial constraints and their lack of fund-raising knowhow mean that 'grassroots' football have not been cultivated to its full potential. For example, we have yet to find an answer to the UK's Sunday (amateur) League football for children to develop their skills and further make the sport a part of their upbringing.

The impact of such limitations is not hard to figure out. Most immediately apparent is the small pool of young players from which to work on. The lack of a junior league means that schoolchildren play on average only three to five competitive matches in a season – a Dutch Football Association study concluded that as many as 35 matches are
needed for players aged 12-16 to best develop their talents and learn the subtleties of teamwork and match discipline.

The state of Malaysian football is not only under threat from within with weak institutions but also unwittingly from TV sets has made a good outing on a Saturday night in the stands of Shah Alam Stadium replaced by sitting on a stool in a mamak stall watching the EPL. It astounded me when I asked my younger brother recently to come see the national team play in the AFC recently and he replied that he would
rather watch the Merseyside derby. And get this: he is a Chelsea fan.

And herein lies an indication that despite the failings of our local scene, Malaysia is, without doubt, a footballing nation. Malaysian football fans would know the likes of Zbigniew Boniek (of Juve fame)
on top of the universal household names like that boy Cristiano.

So how do we ensure that a footballing nation like ours can go local too, ushering a return to the glory days of the 80s and early 90s when
stands were filled week in week out? As foreshadowed, it would be too easy to blame politics and politicking for the state that local
football is in. As it is, let's briefly examine the relationship between football and politics.

Football and state patriotism is relative, and much of state building hinges on football. It was state patriotism or state-ism, if you like,
that drove the passion in the 80s. It remains the same today, although manifested slightly differently. For example Kedah won 2 triple titles back to back under an UMNO govt and they packed down a crowd of 20,000 every weekend. However, the top footballing states are now governed by opposition, Selangor, Perak and Kedah. It was mad to see PKR flags and
PAS regalia at Kedah away matches till FAM had to ban political paraphenelia to the stadiums.

Thus it seems that politics and football will be difficult to separate. In any case, politics is what moves the sport and to get into those positions a lot of politics becomes necessary. One only has to recall Sepp Blatter usurping Havalange for the post of FIFA President or the Platini UEFA campaign that leagues must give prominence to local players then imports to see this. In our context
then, there needs to be a readiness to allow politics and politicians to be involved in the institutions of the sport, so long as they do so
to the benefit of the shared agenda: the advancement of Malaysian football.

And to be sure, this phenomenon in Malaysian football is not unique.The Glasgow derby has always and will continue to be laced in
sectarian undertones. I recall vividly Gascoigne's Protestant"s Orange
Order's flute taunting the Catholic Celtic fans in 1998.

Further examples include,

1)Red Star Belgrade in the old Yugoslavia who have Serbian
Paramilitary connections.

2)Boca Juniors as the "people's Club", based in the slums of Buones Aires; contrasted with River Plate known as the Los Millionares or the rich man's club

3)The history of Lazio v Roma:
Lazio Ultras- Neo Nazi il facisti fans that reside in the Curva Nord (Nothern Curve) and Mussolini's football club – contrasted with Roma,
a communist working class club. Roma has slowly gathered a more affluent social following with more glamorous players, whilst Lazio is
on the outskirts of Rome and are now synonymous as the right wing working class club.

Football is politics.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Credible sources have informed me that Bukit Lanjan Assemblywoman and Selangor State EXCO member for Tourism and Environment YB Elizabeth Wong wrote a letter to the Mayor of Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ) ordering that the 85 acres gazetted for a Muslim burial ground be revoked. Instead, the State government has decided to only allocate 22 acres. The land in question is located in Section 9 Kota Damansara, within the Subang Parliamentary constituency.

I find this decision to be absurd and insensitive. It astounds me that YB Elizabeth did not think that such an act – if made public, as it should – would draw negative and possibly dangerously angry responses from the Malay-Muslim community. But my disappointment and frustration in YB Elizabeth is superseded by my regret and sorrow that the Mentri Besar of Selangor, a Malay and a Muslim, would allow such a travesty to occur.

It is further exasperating that the decision to revoke the 85 acres and only award 22 was said to be made to allow for a botany park instead. Why on Earth does the Selangor State Government thinks it fit that a botany park necessitates trampling upon racial and religious sensitivities? As anyone who has been in the area would testify, there are already ample parks and many strip malls conducive for modern day living.

YB Elizabeth Wong, Mentri Besar YAB Khalid Ibrahim and the entire State Government must ensure that this decision is reversed and the initial awarding of 85 acres for the Muslim cemetery is reinstated. Nothing touches Muslims’ nerves than when even land for the dead is messed with.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Off The Bench, Into The Battle

Assalamualaikum and Hello,
My first entry on this blog will focus on the topic closest to my heart, politics in Malaysia,

After the results of the 12th General Elections, many joined the chorus of pre-empting UMNO's demise, rejoicing in what they saw as a long overdue 'lesson' to the party of government for the past 51 years of nationhood. Riddled with corruption, a feudalistic setting and an insular world-view, UMNO's poor electoral performance was seen as deserved.

But I believe, concurrently there were many individuals who still believed in the fundamental ideology of UMNO, despite all of the party's shortcomings in translating that ideology into action.
Leakages are not merely a matter in economics, it equally affects the manifestation of a struggle, and most would agree that that remains UMNO's biggest problem.

And this is why it is doubly important that UMNO-inclined young Malays who previously remained on the sidelines and fancied themselves as vocal armchair political analysts cum theorists need to rise up and contribute intensely into ensuring UMNO's long term viability. If
these men and women were truly sincere in the belief of UMNO's importance to the advancement of Malays and Malaysians, then they owe it to themselves to engage directly with UMNO towards a shared objective.

Moreover, the participation of young Malays in UMNO is timely as many of their peers have been lost to Opposition parties, especially PKR (PAS has always had its own base). However, UMNO still leads in terms of membership and its network in rural areas – the heartland of the
Malays – is far more established than that of the Opposition.

To be sure, it is also incumbent upon UMNO as an outfit to reach out and win over the hearts of the undecideds. Unfortunately, not all within UMNO seem to be aware of the urgency of this task. That said, a candidate for the post of UMNO Youth Head, Khairy Jamaluddin, appears
to be one of the few who acknowledges the need to capture the unconventional section of the Malay youth. It is also concerting that he accepts even those engagements need to be an educational experience for UMNO – it should never be a lecturing session on why UMNO is the
only party fit to represent Malays.

A party as great as UMNO will never go down without a fight, but it needs substantive change from within to survive, let alone remain in power. This is the party of Tunku Abdul Rahman and other heroes of our Independence. This is the party who despite being faced with multi-racial stakeholders, managed to fork out an intelligently crafted understanding later called the Social Contract, ensuring the fate of Malays remain protected until today. Despite all of its grand
achievements and contributions over the past 51 years, this is a party under siege; it needs YOU to chart its change.

Get off the bench.