Malaysian football hits rock bottom

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden believes the drama from the past few days are a sure sign that Malaysian football has indeed hit rock bottom. But is the only way up?

If 2017 has been a poor year for Malaysian football, then this week has been the fried egg on top of the Nasi Lemak.

Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) has been involved with an unseemly public spat with former Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) coach Mario Gomez about alleged unpaid wages, the 2018 AFC Cup draw took place without Kedah and Pahang and then Nelo Vingada resigned as head coach of the national team.

The only positive is that the year is coming to an end and there is always the optimist’s hope that a new year can bring a new beginning. Problem is: there are no optimists left in Malaysian football.

Monday saw TMJ, former president of JDT trolling Gomez who has threatened to take his former boss to court for what he says are $60,000 in unpaid wages. On JDT’s official twitter account he said: “I’m the Crown Prince of Johor. I don’t need to mention how much I am worth. Does it make any sense that I am not able to pay a mere 60 thousand dollars?” The accompanying picture was the prince driving his speedboat.

Some will see it as a savvy piece of social media from an account that leaves many in the region far behind. Questions remain however as to whether a member of the Johor royal family and the most senior official in Malaysian football using displays of wealth to publicly hit back at a former coach. Regardless of whether Gomez is in the wrong, it just doesn’t sit right.

Sometimes it is better to state the facts, as you see them, clearly and calmly, then rise above and keep the dignity of the office intact. TMJ is still the right man for Malaysian football but as FAM president, he should leave JDT to sort out the issue.

And then there is the whole embarrassment of the AFC Cup, Asia’s second-tier club competition. JDT will be the country’s only representative next year. Kedah, FA Cup winners, failed to submit their audited accounts to Malaysian football authorities in time and while a domestic license to compete in the 2018 Malaysia Super League was eventually granted, one for the 2018 AFC Cup was not. It may be that this is an example of Malaysia finally getting tough but it was a blow for Kedah.

What followed was a blow for the country was the news that Pahang, next in line for that second AFC spot, preferred not to enter at all.

Issues at club level are reflected nationally. Problems with the national team run deep. Nelo Vingada took the reins in May. Here was a teacher-coach, experienced and worldly-wise, ready to guide the team into an era of stability and quiet growth. He also had a decent track record in bringing through young players. He was never going to be an exciting or glamorous choice but was a decent option for a cash-strapped federation.

Results, though, have been dire. Seven games have been played under the Portuguese boss. All but one have been lost with the other a draw. The opposition has often been tough. Back to back 4-1 losses to North Korea in November brought forth comments that not even a Guardiola or Mourinho would be able to lead Malaysia to victories in such a situation. It may be true but constant defeats put the pressure on.

While the coach struggled to get his best players together as often as he would have liked, there were some strange selections. The most bizarre was leaving out the sizeable JDT contingent for the second DPRK match-up, claiming that social media criticisms had affected them. That seemed to be the beginning of the end.

Vingada had started to lose the confidence of the players and it is for the best that he leaves. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. The problems in Malaysian football run deeper than the historic low FIFA ranking of November of 174 and will take more than six months to solve, regardless of how good the coach.

At least there is no rush to name a replacement. The next tournament on the horizon is the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup a year from now. Assistant Tan Cheng Hoe is a ready-made replacement and probably the brightest coach in Malaysia at the moment. He deserves a chance though will be under no illusions as to the size of the task ahead.

Nobody should be. Malaysian football is at a low point and not just in the FIFA rankings. It is to be hoped that the only way is up but, at the moment, there seems to be no end to the Malaysian malaise.

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