PETALING JAYA: All over the world, football is feeling the pinch. TV revenues are down, salaries are skyrocketing and the fans are turning away. The cash crisis has hit football.
Malaysia is not to be spared. Already, the signs are showing. Club side NS Chempaka clawed their way to the Premier I and just when they were on the threshold of history, had the rug pulled from under them. With no sponsors to fork out the RM2million-odd needed to run a team in Premier, they have pulled out of the M-League.
Worse is yet to come. Next year, Malaysian football’s cash cow, Dunhill, make their exit.
Dunhill provide RM30 million a year to the FA of Malaysia. Without the money, the annual RM1.5 million subsidy to the state teams – Chempaka were only to be given a “paltry” RM400,000 – many of the state teams are going to find themselves in ashes.
Never mind the club sides, most state FAs are not on sound footing. And to avoid a total collapse of the system that has been built from the Burnley Cup days of 1921 through the semi-pro era of 1989, the FAM may have to take some drastic measures.
And that could see an elite top league of just about half-a-dozen teams.
The competitions committee under Datuk Redzuan Tan Sri Sheikh Ahmad are now looking at a major revamp of the M-League and they are looking at a handful of teams with a proven track record while the rest will be consigned to the scrapheap.
Admittedly, some of the State FAs have been a disgrace. They are faced with heavy debts, having paid high prices for poor players. They owe players’ large amounts in salaries and are in trouble with the Employers Provident Fund (EPF) and the taxman.
The days of FAM bailing them out are numbered. Now, they just have to be heaved over the side and allowed to drown, saving everyone else the misery.
“We mean business,” declared Redzuan recently. “Things have to change once the cash flow stops. There are no two ways about it.
“It is going to be a new ball game and only the fittest will survive,” he said.
Among the models Redzuan’s team are looking at is that of Thailand, where the league is based mainly in Bangkok with players from around the country brought to the capital to play.
“In Thailand, the main league is played in Bangkok only. It is not like here where it is played nationwide. If you are good, you will find your way to the big league.”
“We cannot accommodate all teams. A smaller league will put a sense of urgency in the players. They cannot afford to be complacent anymore,” he said.
The downside to that would be the fan support. If all matches are played in the Klang Valley, fans around the country are going to stay home. And there are only that many matches the fans in Klang Valley would be willing to pay to watch.
That’s a problem the panel will have to look at but, all the same, Redzuan feels a smaller league is needed with teams playing home and away matches, with a third round of matches added, if necessary.
If the new plan does help raise standards in Malaysia, Dunhill’s withdrawal could be a blessing in disguise.
Today; pampered, molly-coddled and pulled out of the fire every time they get into trouble, the state FAs have sunk into poorly-managed – sometimes pathetically mismanaged – outfits hardly worthy of the word professional.