First it was ringgit and politics, now Malaysia football takes a beating: The Star

UAE's players celebrating after scoring a goal against Malaysia's team during their AFC qualifying football match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi on Sept 3, 2015.
UAE's players celebrating after scoring a goal against Malaysia's team during their AFC qualifying football match for the 2018 FIFA World Cup at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi on Sept 3, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Our football teams used to be among the best in Asia. But now, we have fallen so far down and the spirit is definitely lacking.

By Wong Chun Wai 

The Star/Asia News Network

If there's one thing Malaysians do not need at this juncture, it is another bout of bad news about the country. We have had enough black eyes over the past few months and something uplifting would surely be good for our morale.

Our ringgit has taken a beating, our stock market has been hit, and the political image of Malaysia, too, has been badly bruised.

But now, we have to live with the outrageous news that our Malaysian football team has been humiliated by the United Arab Emirates 10-0 in the Asian Zone World Cup qualifiers last Thursday.

This is a new all-time low in our football history. We don't need another new low because that news angle has become repetitive through the updates of our ringgit's value these days.

At the rate we are sinking, our footballers will probably be beaten by the Eskimos and Amazon tribes who have never played football in their entire lives.

Malaysia is now languishing with the minnows in 169th spot out of 209 countries, a drop of six positions from the previous ranking.

This is according to the latest ranking released by the International Football Federation (FIFA) on Sept 3.

It's no laughing matter but in Asia, we are just above countries like Pakistan (No.170), Bangladesh (No.173), Laos (No.174), Yemen (No.175), Cambodia (No.180) and Brunei (No.182). Even Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan country, is ranked 164 - better than Malaysia. Bhutan may have been thrashed 15-0 by Qatar in the qualifiers on the same day, but Malaysia's has had a longer history with the game.

Our downward spiral is obvious. We recently got thrashed 6-0 by Palestine on home ground and could only manage a 1-1 draw with Timor Leste.

Malaysians dare say that if we were to play against the top women teams in the world, we could end up being walloped. The US women's team, which recently won the FIFA 2015 World Cup, will probably tear our Harimaus to shreds if such a match is allowed.

It is easy to fault the coach and players but let's be brutally honest here - why shouldn't the leadership of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) take the responsibility too?

Coach Dollah Salleh has decided to quit, announcing his decision upon arrival at the KLIA on Friday. It would have been wrong for him to cling on to the job after such a performance.

But is the leadership of FAM prepared to do the same as the same faces seem to have dominated the leadership all these years?

Rightly or wrongly, the FAM is seen as dictatorial, seemingly unwilling to tolerate dissent or any form of challenge. FAM has put to shame the North Koreans for its intolerance of public criticism.

When the team fails, everyone else is blamed except the FAM leadership, which seems untouchable.

The reality is that our football standards are at the lowest ebb. When the Malayan Tigers were knocked out of the AFF Suzuki Cup, head coach Datuk K. Rajagopal was blamed and made a scapegoat. Now, it's the turn of Dollah Salleh. What next - blame the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin?

In fact, Khairy who had questioned and criticised FAM on numerous occasion has even been reportedly labelled "biadap" (rude) for speaking out against FAM.

Don't tell Malaysians that it is seditious to speak up against the FAM or even the Johor FA because they are headed by royalty. They are elected to head our football associations and ordinary Malaysian fans, as stake­holders, have the right to demand transparency and accountability. These sports bodies belong to us, the fans, and are surely not to be passed on from one person to another for hereditary reasons.

The irony is that while Malaysian fans are getting crappy deals, our football players are getting huge salaries - the kind of money that our legends like the late Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun and Santokh Singh could never have imagined in their wildest dreams, as our politicians love to say these days.

Bhutan national players reportedly get a paltry RM582 (S$193) a month and would probably have to sell cow's milk to supplement their income but our players are getting five- to six-figure incomes every month. It's a big deal even with the depreciating ringgit.

And is FAM poor? Far from it and that's why no one seems to be keen to leave their seats. FAM is getting millions in sponsorship.

The leadership of the FAM is decided by 39 delegates - the 14 state FAs have two votes each (28 votes), together with Armed Forces (2), Police (2), Malaysian Malays (2), Malaysian Chinese FA (2), Malaysian Indian Sports Council (2) and Malaysian Coaches Association (1).

Like FIFA, which is currently embroiled in its own leadership crises, there is a lot of power in the hands of the delegates who sometimes do not necessarily carry the views of the people they are supposed to ­represent.

Malaysians love football. We have had our heady days when we were truly among the best in Asia. We even qualified for two Olympics. Our local league has strong support and the battles between the states show the passion in the game. Yet, when it comes to playing for the nation, the spirit is lacking.

Malaysian fans are the ones getting a poor deal, and probably find comfort in supporting their favourite Premier League teams.

It's bad enough to be mocked at for our politics, and now we have to bury our heads and tails even when it comes to football.