FOR all its shortcomings, football remains the No. 1 sport in the country.
Yes, the game is at its lowest ebb – and has been for the longest time.
It’s so bad that we keep replaying the 1980 squad’s achievement in qualifying for the Moscow Olympics over and over again.
We keep harping about the good old days.
Malaysian football has achieved some minor success during these so-called dark days – the AFF Suzuki Cup triumph in 2010 and the SEA Games gold-medal performances in 2009 and 2011.
But these successes only lifted the gloom temporarily. Once the euphoria was over, reality sets in.
That’s how fickle-minded our fans are.
But who can blame them?
Malaysian sports fans used to hero-worship the likes of Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, Wong Choon Wah, James Wong, Hassan Sani, Shukor Salleh and many more.
Now, even I can’t name more than two first-team players in the national team.
The decline of Malaysian football is not just down to the lack of calibre players. The rot starts from the top.
So, when several affiliates of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) broke ranks and openly voiced their support for the Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim to stand for the president’s post in the national body, it was like a breath of fresh air to many.
So far, the Malacca FA, Selangor FA, Sarawak FA and Football Coaches Association of Malaysia (FCAM) have come out in support of him. Many more are expected to do so in the coming days.
The incumbent, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has had his chance. Nothing has changed.
Before him his father, Sultan Ahmad Shah, also had his chance – for almost 30 years – and nothing happened either.
So, why not give the man who has changed the face of football in his home state of Johor the chance to revolutionise Malaysian football?
What is there to lose?
We are already near the bottom of the world ranking, so how much lower can we go, right?
The TMJ, as the owner of Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) is known, has taken domestic football by storm since he entered the scene a few years ago.
He’s brash, outspoken and supremely confident of his own abilities.
Well, he has every right to feel that way. He has, after all, done it his way and brought immense success to Johor football.
Can he do the same for Malaysian football?
I think he can – provided he doesn’t surround himself with yes men!
There is a danger that affiliates tend to bite their tongues in front of a supremo who is a member of the royalty.
That’s been the case for the longest time in FAM.
Nobody dares to say what is actually wrong. Why? They want to keep the status quo and enjoy the perks and benefits that come with being in the FAM set-up.
The TMJ will have to do a lot of cleaning up – sweeping away the dead wood – if he is to restore the credibility and respect that Malaysian football has lost.
It’s going to take a super human effort to take on the massive job of rebuilding Malaysian football.
It’s unclear whether the TMJ is willing to stake his reputation on what almost everyone considers a lost cause.
He has stated many times that he isn’t interested in the top post of FAM and that he’s happy to focus all his energy on Johor football.
But if more affiliates were to stand up and throw their support behind him, will he change his mind?
I believe he should. The call of the nation is one he must not turn his back on.
He knows his stuff. He has a proven track record. And he is not afraid to make unpopular decisions.
In short, those in the various committees had better know their stuff because he is not known to suffer fools gladly.
That’s what Malaysian football needs. So, Tunku, the ball is in your court.
Sports editor R. Manogaran believes that even if the TMJ fails to turn things round, which is highly unlikely given his no-nonsense approach, at least it’s going to be one helluva ride. With the TMJ, you can expect, to borrow a phrase, “heavy metal” action on and off the pitch!