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The Future of Malaysian Football
The national Under-13 football squad, training under the National Football Development Program, sparked hope for Malaysian football when they emerged winners of Iber Cup Costa Del Sol 2015. What’s the game plan moving forward?
Historically, Malaysia was introduced to football first by the British compared to the other countries. It wasn’t long ago when Malaysia were the kings of Southeast Asia and respected around the continent. “We did talk to some people who gave factual evidence that we did not slide, we stagnated,” Safirul Azli Abu Bakar, Lead Director of the National Football Development Program (NFDP), makes clear.
The National Football Development Program (NFDP) has ambitious but achievable goals. It’s a long term effort by the government (through the Youth and Sports Ministry) in developing football in Malaysia. Officially launched on 10 April 2014, NFDP is expected to open a new chapter in our nation’s world of football by nurturing Malaysian youth players aged 7 to 17-years-old.
Going forward, the dream for the NFDP is to be able to compete with the very best in the world, to be a footballing force consistently. “Even if we don’t qualify for the World Cup, we want players playing at the very top level. Take Liberia, for example. George Weah was the best footballer in the world at one time,” Safirul says.
In the history of government-supported grassroots sports development, the coverage of NFDP is the biggest, training 19,250 kids in all of their training centres across the nation with over 900 grassroots coaches.
In that, NFDP was very fortunate to acquire the services of former Bayern Munich youth academy coach and retired Malaysian footballer, Lim Teong Kim. He was handling youth level players, aged 13 to 19-years-old, for 12 years for Bayern Munich. Lim heads the Technical Unit and is fully focused with his job on the pitch. Safirul, on the other hand, runs the support services at NFDP.
There are three main units at NFDP which are sponsorship and strategic planning led by Dax Muhamad with Faliq Firdaus handling the media, portal and NFDP Database. Coaching development and talent scouting is managed by Yakub Hussaini and finally, competition and facilities is run by Shamim Imran.
Under Technical, Lim Teong Kim heads the elite squad coaches. Under that is the performance and analysis unit (which handles technology from video data, sports science and others) and the scouting unit is headed by coach P. Ganasamurthy. Along with all of that are the part-time coaches in the states who report to a centre head coach. The centre head coach reports to the state head coach, and finally the state head coach reports to the zone coordinator.
On a day to day basis, the principle that drives NFDP forward is work ethics. Safirul noted that Lim always conveys the message that it’s all about work ethics, “He always drives it into the players. Every time you do something, you have to do it properly. At the office, or on the pitch. And he will always stress to the coaches, do not move to the next level if the first level is not perfect.”
Every year, the top prospects in the country get the opportunity to face quality teams from top academies in Europe, playing at least 30 games annually. NFDP ensures the quality of competing teams so that our players can benchmark themselves against their opponents.
Safirul shares an anecdote about the NFDP success in the Iber Cup Costa Del Sol 2015, a youth tournament held in Spain:
“We weren’t planning to play in tournaments because Lim Teong Kim does not like to play in tournaments (when the players are) at this age. He wants to be able to choose which team to play. In tournaments, you are grouped together. Maybe some teams are weaker. We also don’t want the kids to be thinking of winning. We want them to play football at all cost, even when in training or when they’re winning. But we thought, ‘Okay, Kim, let’s just give it a try, Iber Cup.’ We may not do well in the cup. It’s quite prestigious with all the top academies’ scouts. They, and agents, always spend their time at Iber Cup. So we play, and we ended up being the champions, beating Sporting Lisbon.”
This created an exciting atmosphere and energy amongst the players. With that, the buzz is shared all across the training centres in the country, along with a sense of optimism and a want to do more. This sets up a competitive attitude of wanting to be the top prospect in the country.
In the NFDP, it is important that the players are able to think for themselves. Safirul points out: “On the pitch, nobody else will help you, even though the coach is shouting but under pressure you need to make your own decision. So these kids are taught every day to make their own decisions.” More often than not, they find that the players know what their options are, and can make a calculated decision on their next move. “You know, self-confidence is the number one thing. If they believe, truly believe, that they can be as good as anybody in this world, they can do wonders.
There are indications that the players at NFDP can compete with the best in the coming years, as observed by Lim and technical advisor Kurt Niedermayer, formerly a youth coach at Bayern Munich, “They gave us assurance that we are on par. But we need to maintain consistency,” says Safirul.
Patience would be the highlighted message to the fans of Malaysian football regarding the NFDP. “Patience is important, especially when you are playing football. Especially when you are supporting your kids as parents, for example. When you see your kids, you have to know your limit. You want your kids to have the best in coaching, so leave the coaching to the coaches. And we need to be patient with the results because playing football at a very young age means making a lot of mistakes.” For instance, Safirul elaborates, “The reason why I am in management is because I am not patient enough to be coaching the kids on the field, so I know my place. So every time I see Lim Teong Kim training the kids, I will not go and disturb. Everyone has their role to play. Please play that role to the level best and be patient.”
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