I remember it very clearly, sitting in a press conference way back in 1996 when a journalist asked Ron Smith what was the single most important component for Malaysia to become competitive in the International Football scene. Having just left one of the most successful development programs that Australia had ever produced, being the Australian Institute of Sport, Ron’s reply of youth development done correctly was perhaps a predictable answer. Unfortunately, despite Ron Smith & many other experts recommendations, youth development was primarily neglected back in the 90s & 2000s within Malaysia.
However, times are a changing in Malaysian football and it seems finally that the powers now understand just how important youth development is to the future of Malaysian Football. Several positive initiatives have been undertaken recently, which if done correctly & patiently will in my opinion see Malaysia once again become a competitive force in the AFC region within the next five to seven years.
Firstly, the appointment of Lim Teong Kim by the Sports Ministry as the Project Director of National Football Development Programme (NFDP) is one of the most positive steps for Malaysian football in a long time. Football is one if not the most popular sport in the country & every child has the right to play football for their local club or school in locally run Leagues. If coaches of these teams can be educated with C-licences and these kids train 2 or 3 times a week, then I guarantee that Malaysia will start producing quality young players in around 7 years from now. Think of it logically, if Malaysia has 400,000 kids aged 8-16 playing & training regularly then of course mathematically there is more chance of producing players – its not rocket science.
Lim Teong Kim’s job will be to firstly get the kids playing football regularly in locally organized leagues. Then he needs to get the coaches educated so that these kids are being taught the correct techniques & principles of football from a young age, which will develop good habits to last a lifetime. Finally he needs to ensure these kids are training minimum three times a week on top of their weekly matches.
Senior coaches in Malaysia are always complaining about the amount of time they have to spend in training, trying to improve the techniques of senior professional players. This of course is because these players, through no fault of their own, did not perfect their technique & skills in their development years because of poor youth development programs. Bottom line is, raw talent can only get you so far.
The football schools located at Bukit Jalil, Pahang & Johor is another positive development within Malaysia. This initiative has been a joint partnership between the National Sports Council, Ministry of Education & Football Association of Malaysia, whereby the best players for their respective age groups have been selected to stay at the school as a team and complete their education while training every day under the watchful eye of qualified coaches.
The success of this program can be seen by the encouraging & impressive performances of the Malaysian U-16 National Team under S. Balachandran at the recent AFC U-16s Cup. Malaysia got to the quarter finals and were within one game of reaching the World Cup, only to go down 2-1 to Australia in a gallant performance. Football Federation Australia (FFA) high performance manager Luke Casserley was impressed with the Malaysian team. stating, “The Malaysians were very organised and were physically equal to the Aussies. We were relieved to get through in the end” .
Lastly on the club scene, JDT are leading the way with President Tunku Ismail Idris hiring the well-known Shebby Singh; whose mandate is to set up Junior Leagues all over the State. Shebby, as he is recognized throughout the country, is known for his forthright views on football and recently spent some time at Blackburn Rovers .
If Shebby can use his experience, knowledge & passion to get the youth development program at JDT to be run in an excellent manner, then no doubt JDT will have a production line of quality home based players coming through the system within the next 5 years. This will be a breath of fresh air and form the mandate for other states to follow.
Despite all the doom & gloom portrayed about Malaysian Football, there are positive signs on the horizon and the way to a positive future is through quality youth developments programs. The previous pyramid was from the top to down, if the current pyramid can be from the bottom to up, then watch the good times begin.