PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak kicked off the National Football Development Plan (NFDP) in Gambang, Pahang, on Thursday.
This is supposed to be the plan that’s set to turn around Malaysian football’s fortunes and take the national team to greater heights – ones unscaled for decades.
Malaysian football has been in the doldrums for too long. As of last week, the national team are ranked 142nd in the world.
Can this plan do what others have failed before?
Former national skipper Shebby Singh certainly thinks so. In fact, he feels that the lack of infrastructure in the big cities should not be seen as a stumbling block to the development of football.
“You can have playing fields outside towns ... life does not revolve around the Klang Valley alone,” said Shebby.
The former global advisor of Blackburn Rovers said the lack of infrastructure was one of the common complaints which many claim had hindered the growth of football development in the country.
But Shebby has pointed out that the NFDP is “spot on” to get the infrastructure in place.
“Identify the land outside the towns. Development work can be done out of major towns, too. It’s time we had such infrastructure out there with multiple pitches, like in other developed footballing nations,” said Shebby.
The introduction of the NFDP is a positive step towards elevating the standard of local football by creating a bigger pool of quality players at the grassroots level. Under this programme, more than 50,000 players are expected to be trained by 2020.
It is a collaboration between the Youth and Sports Ministry and the National Sports Council (NSC) as the government seeks to inculcate a footballing culture similar to that in England, where kids start playing as young as seven years old.
“We didn’t have such junior development programmes during our playing days. Finally, someone is putting in place what every footballing nation has done – a well-structured development plan for the future. I believe we are now heading in the right direction,” said Shebby.
“It is high time we formalised a systematic training programme using sports science and identifying the footballing philosophy, just like how the Dutch came up with the ‘total football’ concept and the Spanish with the tiki-taka.”
Under the NFDP, which actually began last year, more than 52,000 players will be trained by 2020. This is the projected number expected to come through the system headed by project director Lim Teong Kim, a former international with 12 years of youth coaching experience with German champions Bayern Munich.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said that the NFDP would provide a pipeline for the future national team.
He felt that there is a need to have more players in the 7-17 age group as this would help the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) build the foundation at the grassroots.
Khairy had also said that with all the infrastructure in place, the NFDP would then be the ideal place to implement a Malaysian football DNA, or a style of football.
Research conducted in 2010 across six of the world’s high-performing countries (Japan, Holland, Germany, England, Switzerland and Australia) at both youth and senior (male and female) levels revealed a clear vision as far as their player development was concerned.
NFDP project director Teong Kim has developed a style of play which is suited to the Malaysian game – a fast game based on having lots of possession. It is a playing style where players can switch between attack and defence very quickly.
The NFDP covers a wide scope – coaches’ education, talent scouts, facilities, infrastructure, quality and quantity competitions at various levels – as it seeks to prepare the youngsters for the high demands of professional football.
It’s now up to those charged with implementing it to get the programme going.
Who knows, some of these youngsters will one day take Malaysia to the pinnacle of football – the World Cup.