Down2Earth - Malaysian model, Japanese success

SEVERAL years ago my then colleague, T. Vignesh, came back to the office with a crazy story. "Do you know that Japan used our football blueprint to achieve success?"

I could not stomach that and gave him a hard time on his "scoop". But it turns out that in the early 1990s, Malaysia presented Japan with a blueprint on how to run a football league.

Yes, Japan wanted to learn from us!

To the uninitiated and those too young to remember, you can watch Ola Bola to realise that we were once a formidable football nation and had qualified twice for the Olympics.

Over two decades on, Japan – now ranked 53 in the world – has qualified for the FIFA World Cup four times and is on course to lift the cup in 2050.

That blueprint never found its way to our footballers which could explain why we dropped from 166 to 173 in the FIFA rankings.

Japan retains an average world ranking of 33 while Malaysia is all the way down at 128.

The blueprint was commissioned by the Football Association of Malaysia and was developed with the input of coaches, former players and academics, among others.

It included a holistic approach to developing the sport at school and even earlier but as with many good homegrown ideas, the plan ended up in someone's drawer and never saw the light of day.

One can guess why it never saw the light of day just by looking at how Japan improved its game – it adopted a non-interference policy.

This meant politicians and people not related to football would not be involved in the management of the league and development of the game.

The Japanese Football Association is the one-stop technical department, which dictates the path to take and it is followed by other related departments as well as schools, universities and clubs.

Former Malaysian national coach B. Sathianathan who was quoted in the report had observed how parents play a pivotal role in encouraging their children to take up the game.

Many parents in Japan also push their children into taking up football as a profession.

Back home, the six-year National Football Development Programme is under way. An expensive exercise at RM10 million, one wonders what the result will be especially since it has only four years to go for the conclusion of its first phase.

While there seems to be a plan and commitment to this new blueprint, which is driven in part by Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, dare we ask what would happen if we end up with another Cabinet reshuffle and the minister is replaced by … let's just say a less energetic and easily distracted politician?

And will the bickering in FAM also throw a spanner in the works?

As any high-level initiative seems to be personality driven, what guarantees are there that this plan too will not be derailed by politicians and bureaucrats sticking their noses where they don't belong?

Would this plan end up being unimplemented like the one adopted by Japan and perhaps later on find its way to India or Afghanistan which might know what to do with it?

That would be a shame and another testament that we are like the proverbial monkey that is given a flower.

The football blueprint given to Japan is a mere reflection of how we as a nation have allowed ourselves to be overtaken by other nations in other areas such as education and science and technology through the incompetence, arrogance and sheer stupidity of some of those entrusted to take us forward.