Tan should ignore Malaysian fans

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden discusses the issues and problems already facing new Malaysia national team coach Tan Cheng Hoe.

After spending time in Malaysia, it is hard not to get addicted to sambal. This spicy fish-based sauce can be found in as part of Nasi Lemak, the national rice-based dish. The idea of eating rice, nuts and eggs with this sauce takes a bit of getting used to but in terms of consistency, texture and flavour, it is really something special. Then you are just a step away from eating sambal with almost everything. This can be good and bad as you end up just eating things that go with sambal and the sauce becomes the main part of the meal, the rest of it exists as a vehicle to deliver that sambal kick. It can end up overshadowing and distorting everything.

Just like football in the country. In Malaysia, football is never just football, there is always something else on the plate, either seen or not seen. There are always other considerations and things happening behind the scenes. Sometimes you know what these things are, sometimes you can guess but sometimes you just don’t know. You only know that there is something happening.

It was predictable then that there would be some fallout from the 2-2 draw with Mongolia in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Before the game there were some wondering whether arranging a game against a team ranked 189 in the world in an official international week, was the best way to move forward (and not to mention up those FIFA rankings from 178) but in the end, the Mongolians were hardly outclassed and fought well to earn the draw.

Coach Tan Cheng Hoe was predictably criticised despite this being his first real game in charge of the national team. There are always going to be reasons and excuses, but drawing 2-2 at home to Mongolia is never going to be celebrated or even accepted in Malaysia. That is just the way things are.

Just as predictable was that there would be another issue. And it soon came as Tan announced that due to fan criticisms of the perceived favouritism showed to players from Johor Darul Takzim, that players from the Malaysian Super League champions would be sent home – all 14 of them. That means that there will be a much-changed line-up in the final 2019 Asian Cup qualifier against Lebanon on Tuesday as nine new players have joined the team.

“Before the match against Mongolia, us coaches have selected players we feel are the best available in the country,” said Tan. “After the match, because of the result and subsequent criticism that we field 90% JDT players, we want to give chances to other players for the Lebanon game. Hence we released the JDT players.”

“It was decided after the match [against Mongolia] and I’ve called up 9 players. This is what the fans want and us coaches will take the responsibility for it. I will take full responsibility for what I said. I will have to face whatever criticism that comes with this decision.”

It is hard to believe that Tan – a smart coach with plenty of experience – genuinely bases his selections with regard to what the fans think. That ways leads to disaster. Perhaps the only time it should even come into the equation is when there is a player who is so unpopular with the fans that selecting him could damage his confidence and therefore the team’s chances.

Tan obviously has a different reason. Perhaps it is to show how important the JDT players are to the national team. Perhaps if the loss to Lebanon -in a dead-rubber game with the West Asians already through to the Asian Cup and the Malaysians already out –would show the doubters that the likes of Safiq Rahim are necessary. There are other issues. What happens if Malaysia win? Will the players who deliver the result keep their place for the next game? Whether there should be 14 JDT players in the squad in certainly worthy of debate (though, again, it is the coach’s choice) but surely all would agree that there are a number of the southern tigers who are worthy of a starting place.

Ultimately, the only thing that will make fans happy is winning. With no wins in 11 games, it is obvious that there are problems and it is also obvious that it will all take time.

Add all this to the recent resignation of Tunku Sultan Ismail (TMJ) as president of Football Association of Malaysia then the game in the country continues to slide into chaos.

Tan should pick the team he wants – that’s the basic requirement of a coach. He should be able to ignore fans, media and other influences. That this is happening so early in his tenure is worrying. Malaysian football needs some boring normality.