IT has been 36 years since Malaysian football turned professional but the new M-League season, which begins this week, is still learning to “walk”.
Competitive football in Malaysia started in 1921, became semi-professional in 1989 before going professional in 1994.
Amid the woes besetting the M-League, the bright spark comes from Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) continuous progress, with the latest being the Southern Tigers unveiling their own world class stadium — the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium on Saturday.
The RM200 million, 35,000 capacity state-of-the-art stadium which began construction in 2016, underlines what can be achieved if football clubs in Malaysia are really managed professionally, and not with personal agendas.
In just seven years, JDT, who were formed in 2013, not only become Malaysia’s No 1 club but have made an impact at Asian level.
The other teams in Malaysia, despite having a longer history, are still facing financial and management problems, and most are not even able to pay salaries to players on time.
Many will be quick to say that JDT have royal backing in getting funding to carry out programmes or do things.
The question is how many others, with similar means in other states, have done anything close to what Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has done?
It is no secret that many football officials have used their office as their own platform to elevate themselves while their teams are suffering.
A majority of the teams are still dependent on funds from the Malaysian Football League (MFL) and they cry foul when the money is reduced due to economic situations or other factors.
Without hardly any business-like approach, they are unable to manage their teams effectively and thus did little to improve their financial situation.
FAM have tried many ways to uplift the professional game here, including having the M-League managed by MFL. But things can definitely be better if the teams themselves play a bigger role in managing their own affairs.
Changes to the M-League format, teams’ composition and even the rules from time to time have not helped to raise the profile of the league.
With FAM president Datuk Hamidin Amin, doubling up as chief of MFL, all eyes are on him to turn things around.
But Hamidin, alone, cannot do it unless the teams change their mindsets.
Hamidin faces an uphill task, considering that Tunku Ismail tried his level best to elevate the M-League, but gave up to concentrate on JDT. Tunku Ismail’s approach was not met with earnest efforts by the members. These stakeholders cannot be just waiting for handouts forever.
FAM and MFL should also stop making “popular decisions” and grant favours to stakeholders when the priority is to boost the league’s commercial value.
Only teams with a healthy bank account should compete in the Super League while the others should only play in the Premier League or lower-tier competitions.