JAPAN head coach Park Joo-bong was beaming with pride. Thailand supremo Rexy Mainaky could not stop smiling in Bangkok.
Both had good reasons to be happy.
Joo-bong’s Uber Cup team ended a 37-year wait in the Finals for the title and his men’s team gave a fighting display in the Thomas Cup final before losing to China.
Rexy’s girls fought valiantly to upset China for their first-ever ticket to the final.
Mind you, Joo-bong and Rexy were coaches in Malaysia before – but they were unable to produce Thomas Cup winners, world champions or Olympic champions for our nation.
In fact, there are a few Malaysian coaches doing just fine abroad.
Jeremy Gan, who left for Japan last year to become the mixed doubles coach, even stood tall with the Uber Cup winners on the podium in Bangkok – making him the first Malaysian to enjoy success with women shuttlers on the big stage.
Then, there is Tan Kim Her in India, Wong Tat Meng in Scotland, Choong Tan Fook in Hong Kong and K. Yogendran in Mauritius.
All these coaches worked in Malaysia but found little success. Why?
Malaysia collapsed in the Thomas Cup quarter-finals while the women did not even make it to the top eight.
As a school girl, I remember when my family and I watched how the Malaysian team destroyed giants like China and Indonesia en route to winning the Thomas Cup in 1992.
Now, I will be returning from Bangkok with a heavy heart after seeing how inadequate we have become in comparison – not only to China, Indonesia or Denmark but even Japan and Thailand – once badminton minnows.
What went wrong? What is lacking in Malaysia? Is it the quality or the attitude of the players? Is our training and coaching structure so fragile that it is churning out half-baked players?
If our system is dysfunctional, how did we produce three silver medal winners at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016? Was it a fluke? Has the national body been banking on pure luck to survive all these years? Have they been hiding behind a one-man show called Lee Chong Wei?
I honestly believe, we have the talents – there is no doubt about it as we have produced Asian and world junior champions.
We have the best facilities, there’s no question about that.
And there is enough money for the players – not that the BA of Malaysia have hundred of bags full of cash – but they have enough to run their affairs costing RM30mil per year, thanks to all the sponsors brought in by president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria.
It is in managing the players, coaches and expectations that seemed to be flawed. It is the impromptu decisions and short-term measures which is apparently creating cracks in the system.
I received a text message from former international Ong Ewe Hock during the Thomas-Uber Cup Finals – questioning the presence of singles head coach Datuk Misbun Sidek’s personal assistant on the bench during matches.
Sarcastically, Ewe Hock asked, who will BAM bring next? The players’ mother or father? He hopes the quality of the coaches will not be compromised in the future.
Cheah Soon Kit is the men’s doubles head coach but he was moved to train the back-up squad.
Newly appointed Paulus Firman of Indonesia now handles the elite men doubles department. All this was done just before the Thomas Cup Finals.
Head coaches in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles were changed. Two former BAM players – Mohd Arif Abdul Latif and Nur Azryn Ayob rejoined the national team and within a week, one of them, Arif, is selected for the Thomas Cup squad.
Imagine the morale of others who would have worked their butts out for an opportunity of a lifetime.
I asked Joo-bong what was his magic formula. He simply said it was the high-level of motivation to excel shown by the players and coaches during training and competitions.
It was unity among the singles and doubles players and coaches.
What about unity in our national team? What about the coaches and players motivation level? Are there people in the team just for self-interest?
What about the 20 over council members who showed up in Bangkok. How much are their contributions toward creating this oneness and high-level of motivation in the team?
These are questions to ponder by everyone in BAM ahead of the World Championships and Asian Games.