Malaysian football needs to embrace professionalism

Scott McIntyre argues that the Malaysian Super League’s current woes means it’s time for a complete overhaul of how football is run in the country.

Here we are, less than three weeks out from the start of the new Malaysian league season, with uncertainty as to which clubs may or not be taking place, as financial issues strike a range of teams across the league.

Those issues are most prominent at Selangor and Kelantan but hardly confined to that pair. Yet rather than being seen as a struggle – or the ‘Great Depression’ of Malaysian football as one recent article termed it – this should rather be viewed as a chance to finally bring a degree of maturation to football in the country.

But will they play them?

Sitting alone amongst not just regional or even confederational leagues but indeed on a global scale, Malaysia is the clear anomaly in having the bulk of its ‘professional clubs’ funded by various state organisations, whether sporting or political.

It’s almost unthinkable that towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century that Malaysia still has football clubs being run along these archaic models and the time is well and truly overdue for a push towards complete privatisation.

Indeed, it’s tempting to not even term these organisations ‘clubs,’ rather than the charitable ‘community teams’ that they appear to be.

This is the crux of the problem currently facing Selangor as some within the corridors of power have sensed that the private model is the only logical and sustainable way forward, yet have had their path blocked by others determined to try and keep milking the public teat.

As outgoing Football Association of Malaysia (FAS) President Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali noted when he announced his resignation yesterday, the FAS Executive Committee has failed to embrace the idea of professionalism, claiming that the body is consumed by, “excessive politics, the old-fashioned way of doing things and a subsidy mentality.”

The case with Kelantan is not entirely dissimilar, but much of the arguments seem to be lopsided.

Rather than bemoaning the whims of a celebrity sponsor and continued ‘backing’ of the team, supporters and pundits should be asking questions about the very funding model itself – and the same goes right across the league bar for the very small number of clubs – basically one – who have embraced the private model.

It’s little wonder that JDT are the leading light of professional football in the country as they embrace that mantle not just on the pitch, but in every facet off it.

Leading light.

Superb training facilities, a commitment to youth and grassroots football, a café to cater for fans, dedicated merchandise shops, a complete presence across social media and a steady flow of information and entertainment via their website keep the fans and the club ‘breathing’ together as one organic unit.

This is the standard way that professional clubs are run across the world and JDT stand alone in lighting the torch on the path to modernity – and should be applauded for it.

Compare that to the ramshackle and sloppy way that most other clubs are presented and the contrast is stark.

Leaving aside the issues of funding and facilities, it’s the simple, low-cost, things that aren’t even being done right.

Some clubs haven’t seemingly updated their official websites for months, some appear to be completely down and others provide just the barest of information – and they’re hardly alone in that.

Even the ‘official’ website of the body charged with leading the ‘revolution’ of Malaysian football, FMLLP, hasn’t been updated since October and whoever works in their offices hasn’t even bothered to get around to updating the teams that will actually compete in the 2017 edition of their tournaments.

Just happy to survive?

The whole mess is a shoddy, low-grade, debacle that reeks of an organisation and its clubs that are just happy to keep surviving year-to-year.

Indeed, if you look at the litter-trail of ‘clubs’ that have folded over the past decade or so the disorder is close to running off the rails.

Nowhere in the region is there such a ‘proud history’ of clubs rising and then just as quickly falling back into obscurity as one various government body or another decides on a whim to simply cut funding.

The whole travesty in all of this is the fans.

The country is a football obsessed one and it’s this wave of supporters who are the ‘constituents’ of the league. Yet what they’re being served up is a menu that makes it easier to pledge loyalty to teams on the other side of the planet rather than clubs in their homeland who simply may or may not exist year to year.

This is no way to run a professional competition and someone needs to rise or something needs to be urgently done to drag Malaysia into the modern way that leagues are run across much of the world – and that clearly starts with the private model.

The upcoming FAM elections may be a very a good starting point.

It’s alarming to think that there are actually a greater number of wealthy Malaysians owning clubs outside their own country than actually inside and there needs to be a sincere push to cast off the shackles of the state associations and pursue these professional models – and again JDT should be the shining example that makes everybody sit up and realise that, with the correct people and knowledge involved, this is eminently possible.

What we have at the moment is a handout mentality where maintaining and greasing business and political connections are more important than actually finding solutions to administer and run clubs – and the league itself – along a modern, professional, path.

Scott McIntyre

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