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 malaya.com 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.