Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cramer and Teong Kim

Column, Four-Four-Two, February 2014

Pining for Teutonic efficiency

“I cannot overstress the importance of developing good coaches.

“They are the fathers of the game. The quality of soccer in a country depends on them.”

So said Dettmar Cramer, the football guru tasked by FIFA to propagate the right coaching methods to the rest of the world, in an interview with Gerald Martinez of the New Straits Times in 1992.

In his capacity as FIFA roving coach who established football schools in Japan, Iran and Malaysia, Cramer was a familiar figure with coaches in Asia long before he brought Bayern Munich to two successive European Cups in 1975 and 1976.

A year after assisting Helmut Schoen in the FIFA World Cup in England where West Germany finished runners-up to the host country in 1966, Cramer stopped over in Kuala Lumpur to guide a Malaysian side that boasted M. Chandran, Chow Chee Keong, Abdullah Nordin and M. Karathu to fourth place in the Merdeka Tournament.

When the Munich Olympics in 1972 beckoned, again FA of Malaysia (FAM) turned to Cramer for technical and tactical input. Cramer is not the only German to have left an indelible mark in the local game.

Hired by the Sports Ministry but attached to the FA of Malaysia, Karl-Heinz Weigang brought Malaysia the gold medal in the 1977 SEA Games and in April 1980, oversaw Soh Chin Aun and Co bestride the soggy pitch to qualify for the Moscow Olympics at the expense of South Korea and Japan before taking over the reins at Perak and Johor in the 90s.

A media personality, Holger Obermann, became the point man for many Malaysian-German projects which featured studying stints for K. Rajagobal and Norizan Bakar at Hennef Sports School, Rudie Ramli and Fadzli Saari’s brief sojourn to SV Wehen and the renowned Bayern Munich attachment programme where Rafiz Abu Bakar and Akmal Rizal Ahmad Rakhli were put under the wings of Lim Teong Kim at Bayern Munich.

Interestingly, the future of Malaysian football lies in the hands of Teong Kim, the former international who now thinks like a German, courtesy of more than a decade of experience in shaping the youth of Bayern.

The former Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Kedah hardman is in charge of the National Football Development Programme (NFDP), initiated by previous Sports Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek but fine-tuned by his successor Khairy Jamaluddin.

Teong Kim replaced his elder brother Kim Chon, who is no slouch in the global scene. Kim Chon was a member of the FIFA technical study group, a prestigious phalanx of top technical experts tasked to dissect and analyse the latest advances and training methods, in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups.

For two years Kim Chon quietly performed his duties, negotiated with the schools authorities, worked with the coaches at grassroots and helped lay down the foundation in order to create a larger pool of talent between the ages of 8 and 17.

When the job fell vacant following Kim Chon’s decision to join the FIFA development office in Kuala Lumpur, it gave Khairy the opportunity to lure Teong Kim, out of contract at Bayern, to make a comeback.

Armed with the German Football Association (DFB) master licence which he passed at the Hennes Weisweller academy in Cologne in 2005, Teong Kim had hoped to be coaching in Bundesliga before he reached 50.

Fate has decreed that his future lies in his homeland.

This will be Teong Kim’s second bite of the cherry, having held the post as head of the academies at FAM between 1998 and 1999.

The former Hertha Berlin midfielder has no argument over Cramer’s statement all those years ago, that coaches hold the key to proper development of a footballer.

“We need to educate our coaches on the need to be teaching the right basics, mentality and culture to our youngsters during their pre and formative years,” said Teong Kim.

For sure Teong Kim will not be imposing a German benchmark to his fellow coaches.

They have had no standard to aim for all this while, so we shall not be harsh on them. I will be a friend to my fellow coaches. This project will take time.”

For a man who is accustomed to Teutonic sophistication, Teong Kim realises he has to work within a Malaysian eco-system. Viel gluck, Teong Kim!

He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount

Column, Four-Four-Two, May 2015.


EIGHT years into its existence, the Harimau Muda program – created in order to compensate for the lack of exposure for national youth players en route to becoming full-fledged internationals - is in danger of being consigned into the wilderness.

In fact it is in danger of going extinct. No surprise there, for critics of the program have been going for FA of Malaysia’s jugular since last year, exacerbated by the national Under-22 team’s failure to go beyond the group stage of the AFC Asian Cup Under-23 qualifiers recently.

Falling at the first hurdle against Japan and Vietnam was not acceptable, not when most of head coach Razip Ismail’s lieutenants have had the opportunity to hone their skills in Slovakia, Singapore and Australia.

Two of the biggest critics of the program are the Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin, who was the deputy president of FAM from 2007 to 2010, and Johor Darul Ta’zim chief, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

Naturally they feel FAM ought to scrap the program. But we should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

What the program needs is certain modification and more transparency. While Tunku Ismail is in favour of releasing the players back to their respective clubs so that the boys would learn to cope with the daily demands of the M-League, there is no guarantee of playing time for the Under-21s.

When the Harimau Muda program was launched in 2007, the idea was to assemble the cream of the crop so that they grow together in the same environment, under the same coaching methods with the right amount of intensity and international exposure.

Above all they were paid to play full-time. The only thing missing was a competitive league for them to compete in. The idea came into being following the fairly successful co-operation between the National Sports Council (NSC) and FAM, in which the government agency adopted the national Under-20 side that qualified on merit for the Asian Youth Championship in Kolkatta in 2006.

Thanks to the MoU, Datuk K. Rajagobal saw the likes of Safiq Rahim, Aidil Zafuan and Zaquan Adha Abdul Radzak, Amar Rohidan, Bunyamin Umar and Nashriq Baharom, who were not yet on the payroll of their States, be given a monthly allowance of RM2,500.

Overseas training stints were bankrolled by the NSC. Subsequently FAM formed a team that competed in the Premier League, with Rajagobal given ample time and space to nurture unpolished gems such as K. Gurusamy, Mahalli Jasuli and Khairul Fahmi Che Mat into reliable players.

The subsequent generations helmed by Datuk Ong Kim Swee and Azraai Khor Abdullah were later shipped to Slovakia. Eventually a broader base was created encompassing the Under-23 team as Harimau Muda, the Under-21 outfit as Harimau Muda B and the Under-17s as Harimau Muda.

Looking back further, there were two prime examples of a similar project yet with contrasting outcome, first the Harimau team in 1983 coached by Abdullah Mohamad and the 1997 FIFA World Youth Cup, helmed by Hatem Souissi, which spawned the Olympic 2000 project.

The Harimau team were formed by FAM in order to create a back-up squad that would succeed the golden generation that boasted Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh and the rest.

Defenders Razip Ismail, Kamarulzaman Yusof, P. Dharmalingam, midfielders Lahad Daduk Sulik, Faridzul Kassim, Azizol Abu Haniffah and attackers Karim Pin and Azlan Johar emerged through this system.

In 1984, English legend Kevin Keegan was paid a whopping RM150,000 (the quantum triples by today’s standards) for a one month stint to serve as player-cum-coach for the Merdeka Tournament. Some of the team members became established internationals.

Despite a less than impressive tournament in the 1997 World Youth Cup, the team comprising Tengku Hazman Raja Hassan, Das Gregory Kolopis, Sany Fahmi, Rosle Derus and aided by Khalid Jamlus were retained to form the Olympic 2000 team that competed in the Premier League in 1998.

However only Khalid and Tengku Hazman rose through the ranks and played for the national team. The Harimau Muda concept has produced players such as Fadhli Shas, Irfan Fazail, Izham Tarmizi Roslan, Gary Steven Robbat, Amer Saidin and Fandi Othman - all happened to be snapped up by JDT once they severed ties with FAM.

If the various teams under the Harimau Muda program were considered failures, then the State FAs or clubs have no business in hiring them.

If the Harimau Muda program is retained and enhanced, FAM has to decide where best to place the team – whether in Europe, Australia or the stronger Asian nations.

If the program is scrapped, FAM will need to make sure the emerging players are given the room to express their talent through regulation that guarantees them playing time. So which path do we take? Then again, he who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.


My thoughts on FMLLP

Column for Four-Four Two, March 2015.


BELIEVE it or not, the total operating expenses to run Malaysian football is almost RM64 million, based solely on the FA of Malaysia’s income and expenditure statement for the year ended Dec 31, 2013.

FAM’s revenue comes from sponsorships and subsidies, ticket levies, sundry income and investments.

The biggest sponsor for the game in 2013 was Astro Arena Sdn Bhd, the nation’s first sports channel, with an annual sponsorship of RM30 million a year, followed by Telekom Malaysia (RM6.9 million), Felda (RM5 million), the Youth and Sports Ministry (RM4.5 million) and the National Sports Council (NSC) (RM1.6 million).

On top of these, FAM received subsidies, which can be deemed as tokens at best, from Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Asean Football Federation (AFF) and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM).

FAM’s total sponsorship was RM48.2 million, with RM10 million deducted for the now defunct Malaysian Super League (MSL) Sdn Bhd, which served as FAM’s marketing arm from 2005 to 2012.

In running the various teams under FAM’s auspices – from the senior national team right down to the Under-13 squad, the governing body spent RM26,576,289 throughout 2013.

So when it was announced that FAM would be getting a guaranteed minimum amount of RM70 million a year in a deal with leading international media rights company, MP & Silva, beginning 2016, it shall be seen as a boon.

The partnership will oversee five properties owned by FAM – the Super League, the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup or Charity Shield and the Malaysia Cup –and together both parties have set up Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) to manage the commercial and broadcasting rights for the M-League, with FAM affiliates having a stake in the entity.

The deal is expected to be worth around RM1.26bil to FAM to be spread over 15 years starting next year, which is a colossal figure and unprecedented in the domestic game.

The agreement covers domestic and international rights, including all media platforms and devices including terrestrial free-to-air television (FTA), satellite and cable television, Internet protocol television (IPTV), in-flight television, mobile internet, and video-on-demand rights.

The agency’s advisory role aims to develop and implement media distribution and commercial strategies in relation to sales of media rights in close collaboration with the FAM under their authority, in addition to production and technical services to develop offerings with high-production values.

FAM stand to benefit from 40 percent of the total revenue of FMLLP, while the affiliates will receive 30 percent of the funds. Development of referees and youth will be allotted 10 percent and the remaining 20 percent channelled towards running the league.

Interviewed by a small circle of journalists immediately after the MoU signing ceremony in the heart of Kuala Lumpur on January 23, Singapore-based MP & Silva managing director, Asia-Pacific, Beatrice Lee and Head of Acquisitions, Daniele Capelletti, were optimistic of delivering the goods.

“We have made an in-depth evaluation report and also studied the demographics of the M-League and we are confident of the product,” said Beatrice, a Malaysian.

Statistics suggest the media coverage of the M-League had increased tremendously throughout the four-year sponsorship by Astro.

The game enjoyed greater profile than ever before thanks to the live matches aired by Astro Arena with commentary in both Bahasa Malaysia and English, football-related TV shows and activities across all media platforms which amounted to an estimated media value of RM80 million.

Still the RM70 million figure a year is huge to the average Joe. The media remain skeptical of MP & Silva’s capacity to deliver. But for a key global player such as the agency, it is a nominal sum. For more than 20 years, Malaysian football was financed indirectly by smokers via tobacco giants.

Dunhill signed a three-year contract to finance the strictly amateur league in 1984, whereas their rivals Benson & Hedges opted to sponsor FAM’s marquee event, the Merdeka Tournament. The semi-pro league kicked off in 1989 with Dunhill inking a 10-year deal with FAM worth RM62 million.

From 1994 to 2002, FAM inked a deal worth RM35 million a year with Dunhill, before the Malaysian government issued a ban on tobacco sponsorship and advertising.

Telco giant Telekom Malaysia played their part from 2005 to 2011 before Astro brought the game to another level altogether by taking over the commercial rights of the game from FAM.

Now the ownership is back with FAM via FMLLP. Malaysian football is taking its baby steps into the world of privatisation, courtesy of the deal with MP & Silva.

Amateurish in approach and action, most of the game’s advocates in Malaysia may well be forced to raise their game. FMLLP may well hasten Malaysian football into the professional world. Finally.


Water under the Causeway

This article, slightly edited, appeared in the January 2015 issue of Four Four Two.

The romance with Singapore is water under the Causeway

Dec 10, 1994. Shah Alam Stadium. Selangor keeper Hassan Miskam dropped a clanger. Speeding like a bullet from his goalmouth, his sortie ended in disaster.

He failed to catch a cross from Selangor’s left, the ball dropped onto Abbas Saad’s path and the Aussie international hammered home the equaliser that guaranteed Singapore, who clinched the league title four months earlier, a place in the Malaysia Cup final.

Before Hassan’s ill-timed run and error, Selangor were leading 2-1, with 11 minutes remaining. Again in Shah Alam a week later, Abbas’ rich vein of form continued as he struck a hattrick against Pahang in an emphatic famous 4-0 victory for Singapore, ending a 14-year agonising wait for the prestigious Cup to cross the Causeway.

I was seated at the media tribune, reporting for Berita Harian, while almost a busload of my relatives who crossed the Causeway by car was enjoying the momentous occasion of witnessing the Lions’ last Malaysia Cup win before the FA of Malaysia (FAM) insisted on organising the M-League in 1995 without Singapore’s participation.

FA of Singapore’s withdrawal fuelled much speculation, with some critics hinting that the acrimonious parting stemmed from FAM’s war on match-fixing scandal that rocked Malaysian football throughout the entire 1994 season.

Instead of sweeping the shame under the carpet, FAM took a stern action in banning from the game 83 players, of whom 29 were national team material between the ages of 19 and 34.

A whole generation of players was wiped out. The media all along suspected a hidden hand behind the strange and outrageous results in Malaysia Cup matches.

Admittedly Malaysia and Singapore are inextricably linked in football. Singapore was after all part of Malaya.

One of Singapore’s greatest coaches, Choo Seng Quee, brought Malaysia, then known as Persekutuan Tanah Melayu or Malaya, to the bronze medal in the 1962 Asian Games and countless Merdeka Tournament titles.

He was later succeeded by Penang-born Yap Boon Chuan.

One of my uncles by marriage, Ibrahim Hassan, was a member of the Singapore side that competed in the inaugural Merdeka Tournament in 1957. It was a year after his demise in 2000 that I discovered his tales on football he used to regal me with, were not an exaggeration.

My late uncle Long Long Rahim and the 1957 squad

Fast forward to 2011, a MoU was signed for greater co-operation between the two countries.

It allowed Singapore to return to the M-League in 2012, with certain conditions and privileges, while Harimau Muda A would be competing in the S-League.

The truth be told the MoU does little to serve Malaysian football but it is worth its weight in gold for Singapore. The side, comprising players under the age of 23 with a few seniors, get to play against quality opponents on a weekly basis with massive crowd attendance and huge TV ratings, which is in contrast to what Harimau Muda have to endure.

For the individual who dazzled the Shah Alam crowd two decades ago, Abbas Saad, the M-League deserved better.

Now a pundit at Astro SuperSport, Abbas has called for changes.

“The M-League particularly the Malaysia Cup remain prestigious competitions. I am in favour of a stronger Singapore side strengthened by foreign players participating in the league. That way both parties benefit from the development and financial factor,” said Abbas.

Having read FIFA’s most wanted match-fixer, Wilson Perumal Raj’s memoirs Kelong Kings, I argued Singapore legalised betting encourages match-fixing.

This situation will remain irresistible for the bookies to resist.

Malaysian football will continue to be fixed so long as Singapore or representatives of Singapore remain part of the league.

Abbas retorted: “You can ask the authorities to scrap the betting.”

Admittedly there is no perfect solution to combat match-fixing in a region where betting is common.

As my fellow 4-4-2 columnist Neil Humphreys had suggested, Singapore has nurtured a deep rooted sports-betting culture and that the love of sport can be superseded by the love of a winning bet.

Author of The Fix, Declan Hill too suggested the Singapore authorities tolerated and protected certain individuals accused of match-fixing.

Until today it remains a mystery how Singapore allowed Malaysian referee Shokri Nor to jump bail, as much as how Michal Vana was allowed to fled the country in September 1994.

With revelations that the match-fixing syndicate is rooted in Singapore, Malaysia must not be a party to it.

Declaring the MoU with the FA of Singapore as no longer valid is a start as we usher in the new year. Malaysian football’s romance with Singapore is water under the Causeway, unfortunately.

Referees are convenient scapegoats

This article appeared in the August, 2014 issue of Four-Four-Two Malaysia.


I was in my late teens, years away from earning my journalistic stripes, when I noticed two familiar figures in a black and white group photo, taken probably in the 60s.

Much to my pleasant surprise, my late father was the referee in a match held somewhere remote, as I later discovered.

The other instantly recognisable face was that of Peter Velappan, who went on to become arguably Asia’s most influential football leader for more than three decades.

It is a shame that the photo has perished. Because of that picture, I found out my dad earned his Level 3 refereeing badge in Johor and that match was held in an estate.

He was a contemporary of Johor referee, the late Othman Kamaluddin, known as OK in the football circle those days.

While my dad did not pursue a career in refereeing, Othman on many occasions took centrestage in the Malaysia Cup and Merdeka Tournament in the 80s.

Othman came from a generation of renowned referees, foremost among them Batu Pahat-born teacher, Datuk George Joseph, who shared the pitch with Diego Maradona in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Tokyo in 1979.

George, Tan Sri Zain Hashim, T. Nadarajah, S. Kathiravale, Mohd Noor Saud, Patrick Nice, Koh Guan Kiat, Steven Ovinis, Mohd Nazri Abdullah and Nik Ahmad Yaakub to name a few, were the pride of the nation, without getting the opportunity to officiate at the most prestigious sporting extravaganza - the World Cup.

Penang’s Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh did. He earned the distinction at the age of 43 and four months, one year shy of the FIFA age limit, at the South Africa edition in 2010. Halim Hamid and Mat Lazim Awang Hamad were appointed as linesmen in France’98 and Korea/Japan 2002 respectively.

A member of the FIFA referees’ committee, Subkhiddin, was again in Brazil 2014, as the referee technical instructor tasked to analyse referees’ performance for immediate appraisal the following day.

These days, Malaysian referees, however, remain a subject of hate, ridicule and convenient scapegoats of match-fixing allegations.

With the advent of technology and the freedom of expression enjoyed by keyboard warriors, referees have been put under greater scrutiny than ever before.

It does not help matters when M-League matches are laden with questionable decisions from referees.

As a result a huge chunk of criticism directed at the FA of Malaysia (FAM) centred around the perceived incompetence of match officials.

Behind the scenes though, the referees department of FAM have been working quietly to help raise the standard of refereeing.

While goal-line technology that determined Karim Benzema’s effort against Honduras in Brasil 2014 was a legitimate goal may be too expensive to be implemented in this region, FAM have begun to experiment with strategically located additional assistant referees.

FAM has endeavoured to launch the Gemilang Project, with the aim of producing a referee qualified enough to be picked on merit for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

They are also toying with the idea of Introducing radio communication system and electronic flags.

As of 2013, four referees - Nagor Amir Noor Mohamed, Amirul Izwan Yaccob, Nafeez Wahab and Suhaizi Shukri – are the select few who have earned the FIFA badge, while six former referees or assistant referees are FIFA/AFC instructors. This means Subkhiddin, C Ravichandran, Rodzali Yacob, Ahmad Khalidi Supian, Azimi Abdullah and S. Selerajan are master referees who teach others how to become better match officials.

FAM’s grouse remains the lack of referees coming through the system. The original source of referees remains the States but very little opportunity is given to them to hone their skills as the number of inter-district, inter-club tournaments or State leagues for them to cut their teeth has dwindled.

The idea of professional referees is not entirely new. But do we have the financial muscle to pull it through?

Japanese professional referees earn as much as US$10,000 a month, while English referees’ annual salary can come up to RM300,000.

FAM have agreed in principle to appoint 10 referees as professionals but they do not guarantee an error-free match.

To err is human, by the way.

But FAM can start to effect changes by having a separate body to manage and appoint referees for Super League and Malaysia Cup matches. This will help to protect FAM’s integrity and the sanctity of every match.

Then again, as Brazil 2014 suggested, referees are prone to making questionable decisions even at the highest level where the stakes are much higher.

Alas Malaysians in general must realise, since Harimau Malaya appear to be stuck in a perpetual darkness, referees are our only saving grace and best hope to represent the country at the grandest football extravaganza of all – the World Cup.


Cynical and audacious

Because my column in Four-Four-Two is not online, I will be sharing share a few in my blog from time to time.

This piece appeared in July 2014. A year ago.

THE thought of having a talk-show to call my own never crossed my mind, even when I was invited to be part of Astro Arena’s pioneering team of talent when Malaysia’s first sports channel was launched in 2010.

In my meeting with the late Astro Arena general manager Matt McKeown and channel manager, Venu Ramadass in November 2009, months before Arena came into being, the discussion centred on my role as a blogger in an issue-based talk show.

Matt had already made up his mind in wanting me to be part of the show modelled after Fox Sports Australia’s The Back Page, which looks at big issues surrounding Aussie sports, despite not having finalised the host.

Kafe Sukan was to become one of Arena’s signature shows and I was happy to be sharing my thoughts on air as well as reading viewers’ comments from the various social media platforms.

A year on, Slamet Sazly Yakub, Astro Arena’s head of content creation, threw the idea of having a hard-talk show with me as the host.

Slamet had already conceptualised the studio set to be dark to give the impression to the guest that he is in a torture chamber.

The host must be cynical, audacious and not afraid to ask the right and relevant questions, no matter how controversial they are. Slamet insisted I was the right man for the job. I was hesitant.

I was no TV man. I was just a journalist who happened to be given a shot at sharing my views on TV.

It took me weeks before I had the courage to say yes to Slamet, who coined the title Dengan Izin, or loosely translated means Allow Me or With Permission, a term used by Malaysian lawmakers if they want to hammer home a point of debate in a language other than Bahasa Malaysia in Parliament.

There was also another catch. Slamet wanted me to project a serious demeanour, a no-nonsense style that is intended to provoke the guests. This is in contrast to my good natured self.

Arena’s managing editor Dez Corkhill’s message was very simple. “We want you to be a b******d in the show. Grill your guests.”

Because of this, I suffered sleepless nights ahead of the first broadcast. I did not think the audience were ready for a talk-show that provoked and gave little room for the guests to answer.

From the first guest former badminton star Razif Sidek in April 2011 to Johor Darul Takzim FC supremo Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim which was shown live in May, Dengan Izin survived four seasons, having featured 46 guests over 48 episodes.

Reaction and feedback was mixed. Some consider the show an eye-opener, while others believed I was kurang ajar and the questions were designed to embarrass the guests.

Yes, the truth be told, using the word difficult in getting guests for the show is an understatement.

Many officials baulked at the idea of coming to the show.

To the likes of former Selangor skipper, Malek Rahman, who disclosed the modus operandi of football match fixers and athletics coach Harun Rasheed Othuman’s exclusive revelation of a conversation ahead of a doping scandal involving a few track and field athletes, I say thanks.

Read this posting in 2012

Former assistant general secretary of FAM, Datuk Ahmad Fuad Daud in 2012

To a long list of VIPs that took the trouble to make the show a success, namely Tunku Ismail, Tan Sri Annuar Musa, Datuk Ahmad Ismail, Datuk Seri Nadzmi Salleh, Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz, Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad, Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin, Tan Sri Abdul Razak Latiff, Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim , Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal and Khairy Jamaluddin, allow me to express my gratitude.

One thing is for certain, very few can host Dengan Izin, if I may add. And it is a TV show, a show designed to entertain. If I have the licence to ask tough questions, Dengan Izin gives those occupying the hot-seat equal opportunity to shoot back and trap the host. Very few can take as hard as they give.

"Life is not about how hard of a hit you can give, it's about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward."