A worrying sign for Malaysia's football future

KUALA LUMPUR: Football critic Dr. Zulakbal Abdul Karim is alarmed at the continuous failures of the national youth teams.

Malaysian football suffered yet another early setback with the the Young Tigers crawling out of the Under-23 Asian Cup after identical 2-0 losses to Uzbekistan and Vietnam in their group matches in Doha last week.

These are bad signs for the future of Malaysian football. The national Under-23 team failed to get past the group stage for the second consecutive time. Malaysia suffered the same fate at the 2022 edition in Uzbekistan.

Malaysia's best result was in their debut in 2018 in China where they reached the quarter-finals before a narrow 2-1 loss to South Korea.

Zulakbal said the unsatisfactory results are an alarming sign because Malaysia are depending on these Under-23 players to make the step-up to the national senior team.

Zulakbal, who is an AFC Professional Coaching Diploma holder, said things need to change, and Malaysian football stakeholders need to be honest.

"The Under-23 level is important because these are players who will make the senior team. If they cannot be competitive at Asian age group level, how can they make an impact at senior level?

"It's always a 10-year cycle for a football team. We had good teams in the 70s, 80s and 90s. After that, we had several good individuals in the 2000s and 2010s like Akmal Rizal (Ahmad Rakhli) and Safee (Sali) but we should be better in the 2020s.

"We need players to be able to play as a team and individually. Is this happening with our national team? Is the M-League providing the stage for the players to be competitive?

"We understand that the state affiliates and the clubs want to win competitions as a return on their investment, but at what cost?

"I understand the commercial part of a league, but a football league should be a platform to produce competitive players for the national team.

"I don't understand the rationale of having three imports and two overage players on the pitch in the Under-23 MFL competition. How can this help our football develop?

"To be honest, if our football administrators' decisions were correct all these years, we would have qualified for the World Cup."

Zulakbal said a long-term development programme is needed to arrest the decline of Malaysian football. With the grand short-term programmes having failed to produce results, a systemic approach is needed more than ever.

"We had Lim Teong Kim in charge of the National Football Development Programme and handling the national Under-16 team, but they failed to qualify for the 2019 Under-17 World Cup despite having a big budget," said the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris Sports Science associate professor.

"What happened to the players from that squad? Before that, we had S. Balachandran's squad, which reached the 2014 Under-17 Asian Cup quarter-finals, but the talented squad fizzled out as well.

"We need to make sure the young talents that we have continue their progress and reach their potential at the senior level. We need our football league to be a platform for players to keep improving, and for that, the affiliates and clubs need to play their roles."

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories