HARESH SAYS: Uncertainty plagues Malaysian football

As published in Malay Mail today

Fans should just forget about football, for now, and support our heroes in Rio.

By Haresh Deol

THE only thing certain in Malaysian football — is uncertainty.
Many things have been uncertain for far too long. One of them is the FA of Malaysia’s (FAM) leadership.
FAM president Tengku Abdullah Shah, who turned 57 on Saturday, has made it clear he wants out from the national body. The Pahang Crown Prince had last year announced he was ready to step down following the nation’s disastrous outings in the World Cup/Asia Cup qualifiers.
However, there were those who begged him to reconsider — for reasons best known to them. Having a member of the royal family gives them the impression that FAM will not have to worry about its finances and stature, perhaps.
Having dealt with Tengku Abdullah on many occasions, he, like his father former FAM president Sultan Ahmad Shah, has always been clear about his role in football. Both father and son have never flexed their “royal muscles” when criticised, regardless how harsh. They knew when to wear their hats and were respected for that.
I remember meeting Sultan Ahmad at an FAM function several years ago and as we exchanged greetings, he playfully told other FAM officials around him while pointing at me: “He always criticises me but it’s ok … I’ll never be offended.”
Those who have been pressing for change within FAM welcomes Tengku Abdullah’s decision to quit. With hashtags of #RombakFAM posted on social media, especially after Malaysia suffered a 10-0 beating by United Arab Emirates last year. It was the worst performance by the national team and fans were hungry for change, demanding a total overhaul in FAM.
As he now distances himself from Malaysian football, who will best replace him?
“Apparently there are attempts to get Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to be the president. But the only thing stopping him is the Cabinet directive that disallows ministers from taking up posts,” said a source.
“But there is nothing in the Fifa regulations prohibiting politicians from heading FAs. Vitaly Mutko is a great example ... he is the Russian Sports Minister and the Russian FA president.”
It is, however, highly unlikely Khairy would take up the post. He should know the government’s stand better after Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, who was re-elected as Amateur Swimming Union of Malaysia president in May last year, was forced to step down from the post he held since 1996. 
Perhaps, he could play an advisory role. With football’s large fan base, it’s a great place to garner “popular votes’’ ahead of the next general election.
Who else is there? Well, there is Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) owner Tunku Ismail Ibrahim.
However, the Johor Crown Prince — known for his passion for football and criticism against FAM — has ruled himself out of the race.
“I cannot become FAM president because I will be biased towards JDT. You can’t have someone from the state FA to become president, you need to have someone who is neutral,” he said on the Obviously Harith Iskandar talk show aired on Astro Awani on Saturday.
Tunku Ismail is spot on. To be unbiased, one must not be affiliated to any team competing in the M-League. But such a notion may scare affiliates who are still stuck in their 1980s mentality. They are an insecure bunch.
As such, even if Tunku Ismail had wanted to run for president, he may not even get the votes. Sadly in FAM, the race to the top is not about one’s administrative skills but how good he or she is with the affiliates.
Also, many would be intimidated by Tunku Ismail as he often signs off as the Crown Prince and not as a football club owner.
Where does this leave us?
“A proxy of one of the influential figures could be the answer,” added another source.
Khairy will meet the FAM executive council members tomorrow to discuss the “formula” to fix the woe. This is following his conversations with Tengku Abdullah and Tunku Ismail. 
Till then, FAM’s future remains uncertain.
As for the fans, let’s forget FAM for the time being and support our 32 heroes competing in the Rio Olympics. Malay Mail Afternoon E-Paper will bring you the latest as Malay Mail sports editor Graig Nunis will provide insights from the Brazilian city.
Let’s support real athletes and give our so-called footballers and their administrators time to get their act together with their “formulas”. 
We have been harping about Malaysian football being in the doldrums for decades, what’s another few more weeks of uncertainty?

HARESH is Malay Mail executive editor. He can be reached at haresh@mmail.com.my or on Twitter@HareshDeol


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