On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

An invincible line-up?

Almost the same people have been running our FAM all these years, with little results to show. In fact, our position has worsened.

On the FIFA world rankings, Malaysia is ranked 164 out of 209 countries. Even Maldives, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and two other countries which I can’t even locate on the map – Tajiskistan and Faroe Islands – rank higher than us.

More painful, Singapore is ranked 162 and that’s a tiny country with hardly enough fields for the kids to play football.

It’s a disgrace really. Even that is an understatement. Malaysia is so short of football heroes that we have to keep reminding ourselves of the greatness of Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari and Santokh Singh, with RTM having to pathetically repeat those grainy black-and-white visuals of these heroes playing.

Half of the people in Malaysia were not even born when these football legends were in their prime. So our kids simply have no connection with them.

We cannot live in the past but, unfortunately, we are not producing enough good players today, let alone heroes. We may have some good ones but none of them are outstanding.

Malaysians have a hard time remembering the names of our national players. When there is nothing to shout about, we just don’t bother. That’s a fact.

It’s like Arsenal, of which I am a big fan. I am still trying to memorise the names of the present Gunners.

Why blame the Gooners, as we diehard fans are called, as these new players are shooting blanks in the club’s worst season ever. None of the Gunners, except maybe for Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, is worthy of mention. That, painful as it may sound, is almost identical to the problems affecting the national team.

At least in the English Premier League, we have heard of football managers getting sacked and even chief executive officers of these football clubs, some of which are listed on the stock exchange, getting the boot. But the FAM line-up is practically invincible.

Nobody wants to leave the FAM nor take responsibility for the fiasco in Malaysian football, presumably because the perks are too good to give up.

There is a clear lack of fresh input to spark the fire to give Malaysian football a fresh start. In modern social media terms, FAM needs a re-boot.

But few dare to criticise the FAM leadership because of the powerful figures involved. Those directly in the game, players or officials, do not want to earn the wrath of these well-connected figures, who can make lives miserable for those who dare to speak up.

Clinging on to their posts, it would seem to most Malaysians that they have now become more dictatorial. Even the slightest criticism, which would hardly raise the eyebrows of most Malaysians, can lead to harsh punishment.

The latest to feel the heat is national coach Datuk K. Rajagopal, who is being hauled up under Article 88 of the FAM statutes. The coach’s comment on the lack of local strikers in the M-League was construed as a criticism of the national league. So what if it is a criticism of the national league? And since when has it become a crime to criticise the horrific affairs of the FAM?

Rajagopal was said to have made the comment at a post-game match press conference after the national team suffered a 4-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in a friendly at the Shah Alam Stadium on March 17.

The controversy has become even more interesting with FAM general secretary Datuk Azzuddin Ahmad now saying it could be part of a conspiracy to kick Rajagopal out.

He was quoted as saying that Rajagopal’s statement was published in the media and, under the regulations, the disciplinary committee has to investigate and decide, saying the “FAM practises transparency and that is why we decided to proceed with the charge against Rajagopal”.

But many Malaysian football fans are going to laugh when FAM talks about transparency and accountability.

We all feel passionate about football because it is one game that brings all of us together in a nation that is badly divided politically.

If only our FAM officials spend as much time putting their energy and resources together to revive our Malaysian team instead of looking through the newspapers daily, worrying over statements made by officials.

Stop kicking Rajagopal and the Malaysian fans around. We have had enough of the gross incompetence of the FAM.