EYE-OPENER: It’s high time we groomed talented youngsters to fill the national sides
The Sea Games football gold has been defended successfully. So the question now is what's next?
It is perhaps living up to the nature of football in Malaysia where a heavy burden has been placed on our young players to deliver results and live up to public expectations.
This from a squad that included a 17-year-old in Nazmi Faiz Mansor and an 18-year-old in Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim.
It should not be that there were only three players aged 23 in Baddrol Bakhtiar, Asraruddin Putra Omar and Yong Kuong Yong playing in a tournament where the age limit is 23.
It begs the question of where is the rest of the 23-year-olds in our country when the coach has to resort to calling up schoolboys?
How ironic is it that the Sports Ministry, National Sports Council and FA of Malaysia all demanded that Ong Kim Swee and his young squad return with nothing less than Sea Games gold while K. Rajagobal gets away with the excuse that players need "exposure" after the 5-1 bashing by Australia recently?
The footballers went to Vientiane two years ago with low public expectations and no pressure before winning gold.
Kim Swee faced enormous demands, not only having to defend the gold medal but also juggle his duties as Olympic coach and prepare the squad for next year's adventure in the S-League.
Against all these obstacles and more -- Kim Swee was banned from the touchline for the semi-finals, three key players injured for the final and the team played four of six matches in the evening heat -- the team have triumphed.
What is needed from FAM at this stage is no longer just glory at the Sea Games but at lower age-group levels.
It has been ages since Malaysia even won a title at the AFF Under-19 and Under-16 championships so clearly there is something lacking in development efforts.
The fact that there is not a pool of 23-year-olds for Kim Swee to call upon is damning evidence. Yes, we have a squad of champions but it is an uneven talent pool that could dry up sooner than later.
If further proof is needed, 13 players from the Sea Games squad will be involved in today's Olympic qualifier against Syria.
If we had enough capable 23-year-old footballers, this issue need not have arisen.
What FAM has going for them at this moment is a confluence of lucky factors, from excellent coaches in Rajagobal and Kim Swee to a specific and limited pool of talent.
Until and unless the lower age-groups begin to show results, we will forever be scratching the bottom of the barrel to fill the national sides at senior and Under-23 levels.