The beautiful game goes on

Among Azraai’s many achievements is guiding the Kedah football team to victory in the Malaysia Super League. — CHIN CHENG YEANG/The Star

Azraai Khor Abdullah, football coach and former national footballer

FOOTBALL goes on, even under these unprecedented circumstances. The sight of empty stands, barren fields and players practising virtually is something we are not accustomed to, but that does not mean the work of developing the game has stopped.

As a former footballer and a coach, I still have the burning desire to impart my knowledge and look for the next talent to elevate the game in my home state Kedah or elsewhere in Malaysia.

Throughout the years, I have unearthed many talents from rural villages in Baling and Padang Terap. Seeing some of them ply their trade for the football clubs in Malaysia gives me great joy.

Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic has messed up many things and thrown us off balance. To be a real baller, you need to be on the field executing your drills and movements, and performing in sparring matches.

Even my friends in Indonesia are lamenting the fact that their league has not started and it could hamper their progress in the game.

But what this period has taught us is resilience. I have seen it in the eyes of the players and coaches I have trained.

In a way, we are blessed to have technology during this period as we can conduct online sessions and continue searching for ways to improve our game.

From these sessions, I can see that the players’ spirits have not wavered and their willingness to improve is powerful. To me, this shows that Malaysians have what it takes to be better in any circumstances.

For me, the best talents are from the rural areas. In Kedah, we call the young ‘uns “ubi muda”, and I can see players as young as eight showing great potential. Watching them makes me optimistic that football will remain the No.1 sport in the country.

Even the coaches are eager to learn and I get lots of football- related questions via WhatsApp.

Though all these things give me great hope during the month of Merdeka, others sadden me.

Although the league is going on right now, some clubs are struggling financially, which has negatively affected players and staff.

It is also a shame to see clubs being docked points by the Football Association of Malaysia or FIFA for not paying their wages.

No one wants to see their fellow professionals suffering such a fate. It pains me to see that it is still happening at a time when we want clubs to embrace privatisation as a means to move forward.

Frankly, the game needs to be managed by professionals. It is time to do away with the politicians who see the game as a way to elevate their status because football is the country’s top sport.

My wish for Merdeka is to see more young talents growing and clubs becoming more professional.

Merdeka means a lot to me because when I was a national player, I took part in the Merdeka Tournaments and we became champions when we beat Japan 2-0 in the 1976 final.That is a great memory for me and I hope we can see such a feat repeated.

For that to happen, I will continue to develop young talents but I also hope that clubs will better understand the value of professionalism and how it could lead to a myriad of changes and opportunities for this nation.

Azraai Khor Abdullah is one of Malaysia’s most successful football coaches. Under his leadership, Kedah made a clean sweep of the domestic treble – the Super League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup – not once, but twice, in 2007 and 2008.

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