Monday, 19 December 2011

M-League set to undergo new change of format

The euphoria from winning a second consecutive Sea Games football gold had barely died down when news filtered through that the M-League is undergoing yet another makeover, for better or worse.

Malaysian football has undergone many changes over the years, so the impending move to reduce the Super League from 14 to 12 teams is no surprise.

The change is designed to instill quality into the top-flight with the FA of Malaysia (FAM) of the view that 24 teams in the Super and Premier Leagues is the ideal number that professional football can hold in the country.

"If you have so many professional teams, but not enough quality it serves no purpose," said FAM competitions committee chairman Datuk Hamidin Amin recently.

The new structure will be in place from 2013 to 2016 before being subject to another review, so only time will tell if it will give the M-League the desperate lift it needs.

Already though, the league appears to be moving in the right direction with the reintroduction of foreign players and the return of Singapore, in the form of LionsXII, after a 17-year absence.

LionsXII, who cannot be relegated under the terms of the agreement between FAM and the FA of Singapore, have named a strong side capable of challenging for honours on all fronts, giving the local game a boost and sure to lead to an increase in attendances across Malaysia.

Kelantan, the new aristocrats  of Malaysian football, stamped their mark by winning their first-ever league title and with the hiring of four foreign players and the return of Peter Butler as coach, have grand ambitions in the AFC Cup.

Terengganu narrowly failed to win a cup double after letting in two late goals against Negri Sembilan to lose the Malaysia Cup final, having themselves come back from the dead to beat Kelantan in the FA Cup final to also qualify for the AFC Cup.

On the international front, most of the nation's attention was on the Young Tigers at the expense of the senior  national team of K. Rajagopal.

Malaysia's failure to beat Singapore in the World Cup qualifiers, after going down 5-3 away in the first leg, was a painful experience for fans and for the first time, Rajagobal came in for some stick with his choice of players and tactics.

The defeat leaves the national team without a competitive tournament until the end of 2012 when they defend the AFF Cup on home soil.

So it was left to Ong Kim Swee's Young Tigers to deliver the success that Malaysians are now becoming accustomed to.

Having to juggle Olympic qualifying and Sea Games commitments was not easy for Kim Swee, yet he somehow masterminded a brilliant defence of the Sea Games gold in Jakarta with two memorable wins over hosts Indonesia to savour.

While the Olympic qualifying campaign floundered, the Sea Games triumph cemented Malaysia's position as the best in Southeast Asia and earned Kim Swee an extension to 2013 with the accompanying pay rise.

Nazmi Faiz Mansor, the 17-year-old who skipped  his SPM examinations to play at the Sea Games, emerged as the next best thing in Malaysian football and is widely seen as capable of scaling greater heights.

The development of Nazmi through the Bukit Jalil Sports School programme and FAM's various youth teams is evidence that the centralised development theory is bearing fruit.

But how far this can be sustained remains to be seen as state FAs continue to neglect development and happily pick off talent from FAM teams by dangling  big pay cheques to entice the players instead of being the factories of development.

Selangor, for example, have not promoted a single player from their Under-21 President's Cup over the last two years.

Instead, they are content to let their financial muscle do their talking and sign the best talent available from teams with lesser means.

Armed Forces, the noveau rich of Malaysian football, are also heading down that well-trodden path, showering cash on anyone able to kick a ball in their bid to win promotion to the Super League.

Few state FAs have football academies -- only Terengganu, Kelantan and Kuala Lumpur are close to having one of their own -- with most reliant on state sport schools for junior players.

The much maligned President's Cup, supposedly a  production line of talent, was hit by a match-fixing scandal that saw one bookmaker and Negri Under-21 coach Yusarman Yusof charged in court.

Lower down the age-group, myriad junior leagues are blossoming around the country, yet it seems strange that few talented players are through the ranks.

Football players often disappear when they leave school at the age of 17 with no bridge to the Under-21 teams.

The Under-19 Youth Cup (Piala Belia) used to help the school-leavers' transition to professional football but its disappearance after 2009 left a gaping hole in the age-group structure.

FAM plans to bring it back in 2012 but only on a carnival basis, defeating its purpose of keeping Under-19 players engaged all year round.   And there in lies the grub of Malaysian football, half-hearted planning and execution with little substance.

No comments:

Post a Comment