A COUPLE of months ago, a “FIFA Players Agent” got a tip-off from a taxi driver about a promising young footballer while on business trip to Kuala Lumpur.
The taxi driver overheard the “agent” talking to a client on his mobile phone about playing opportunities abroad for professional footballers.
The taxi driver then alerted the “agent” about a young footballer he had seen playing in a local tournament organised by Frenz United Football Club (FUFC).
A few days later, the “agent” read about this boy in The Star’s “Rising Star” column of the sports pages.
Wasting no time, the agent contacted the daily and got hold of the boy’s guardian for more information, with the aim of getting him into a youth club in Europe.
Surprisingly (or not), our very own Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) don’t seem to have a clue about the talents they have right in front of their own eyes.
The Harimau Muda D squad (Under-16), coached by S. Balachandran, have been making waves since the team were assembled in January last year. They finished top in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) youth championship in Myanmar and the AFC Under-16 qualifying rounds in Laos. Last month, they won the invitational Asia Champions Trophy tournament.
In the ongoing AFC Under-16 championship in Bangkok, the team are through to the quarter-finals after finishing runners-up to South Korea. The boys defeated Thailand 1-0 and Oman 2-1 but lost to South Korea 1-0.
They play Australia on Sunday – where a win will ensure them a ticket to the FIFA World Under-17 Finals in Chile next year.
Skipper Mohd Shahrul Akmal, Mohd Najmuddin Samat, Dinesh Rajasingham, Najib Abdullah and Kogileswaran Raj are just some of the exciting talents on showcase – and with a bright future ahead of them.
Some of the local clubs are queueing up for these teenagers’ signatures.
The FAM have to decide fast what is next for these boys – irrespective of whether they qualify for Chile next year.
Why waste these talents – the combined products of the Pahang Sports School in Gambang and the Tunku Ismail Sports School in Johor.
Where are the follow-up programmes?
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has stated explicitly that the Harimau Muda D squad is an asset to the nation and should be kept together.
He knows the importance of youth development – it was he, after all, who mooted the idea of setting up the National Football Development Programme (NFDP) last year.
The future does augur well ... but what’s your next move, FAM?
Perhaps, FAM should look East! To the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, that is.
These boys, who are 16 now, should – in six years’ time and with the right kind of exposure – be a forced to be reckoned with in Asia.
The FAM technical committee also includes top-ranked officials from the Education Ministry. So, why not work out a win-win solution that caters to both their studies and trainings.
If FAM could pour millions on ringgit into the Harimau Muda A (Under-22) squad’s stint in the Queensland Premier League, why not spend just as much on these much more talented Under-16 boys?
They could, perhaps, be sent on attachments or training stints with foreign clubs.
It’s time to invest on the young ones, FAM!
Neither the national team nor the back-up Harimau Muda A squad are going to make much headway in Asia in the next 10 years but there is a better chance of the Under-16 boys qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The ball is at your feet, FAM.