Commentary

Football: About time Malaysia's FAM shoulders blame for painful decline

Malaysia's head coach Ong Kim Swee (left) and player Safiq Rahim at a press conference on Sept 7, ahead of the Fifa 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia's head coach Ong Kim Swee (left) and player Safiq Rahim at a press conference on Sept 7, ahead of the Fifa 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Saudi Arabia. PHOTO: EPA

If there's one thing Malaysians do not need at this juncture, it is another bout of bad news about the country.

But now we have to live with the outrageous news that our football team has been humiliated by the United Arab Emirates 10-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday. This is a new all-time low in our football history.

Malaysia are languishing with the minnows in 169th spot out of 209 countries in the Fifa world rankings, a drop of six positions from the previous ranking.

It's no laughing matter. In Asia we are just above countries like Pakistan (No. 170), Bangladesh (173), Laos (174), Yemen (175), Cambodia (180) and Brunei (182). Even Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan country, are ranked 164.

Bhutan may have been thrashed 15-0 by Qatar in the qualifiers on the same day, but Malaysia have had a longer history with the game.

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?

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.

The US women's team, who recently won the Women's 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, but is the FAM prepared to do the same?

Rightly or wrongly, the FAM is seen as dictatorial, seemingly unwilling to tolerate dissent or any form of challenge.

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 Malaysia were knocked out of the AFF Suzuki Cup, head coach K. Rajagopal was blamed and made a scapegoat.

Now, it's Dollah's turn.

What next - blame the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin?

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

Is it because the FAM, or even the Johor FA, are headed by royalty?

One hopes not. These office bearers are elected to head our football associations, and ordinary Malaysian fans, as stakeholders, have the right to demand transparency and accountability.

The irony is that while Malaysian fans are getting upset over poor results, 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.

Bhutan national players reportedly get a paltry RM582 (S$192) a month and would probably have to sell cow's milk to supplement their income.

Meanwhile, our players are getting five- to six-figure incomes every month.

It's a big deal even with the depreciating ringgit.

And is the FAM poor? Far from it, and that's why no one seems to be keen to leave their seats.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'About time FAM shoulders blame for painful decline'. Print Edition | Subscribe