Column - TMJ all set to lead FAM

MALAYSIAN football is in the doldrums. Our FIFA ranking is almost at rock-bottom with the national team's dismal performance while domestically several states and clubs are strapped for money to pay the salaries of players in the Malaysian League.

That it has come to this is hardly surprising to those who have closely followed the development of the world's No.1 sport in the nation for which football generates the same passion and craze as it does elsewhere globally.

It was with all the good intentions that the running of Malaysian football went fully professional 20 years ago in line with the massive interest in the sport and its pulling power among corporate sponsors and potential earnings from television rights.

But somewhere along the way, there's also been some serious misplanning and the setting of unachievable targets. Things got worse when some states and clubs started paying astronomical salaries to players and this has landed them in a financial mess.

This was aggravated when certain corporate sponsors terminated their contracts with the downturn in the economy while some well-to-do private cash cows pulled out when their teams didn't perform to expectation.

Selangor, traditionally the biggest draw in Malaysian football for decades, even gave notice it would withdraw from the M-League as like most other states, with the exception of Johor, it has come to its wits' end in trying to stay afloat financially.

Off the field, however, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel as football fans await the March 25 election in the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

There was initially some kind of election fever in the air when the names of four personalities were bandied about as in the running for the hot seat.

For the past 33 years there has not been any contest for the presidency – FAM was headed for 30 years by the Sultan of Pahang who then was succeeded by his son, Tengku Abdullah ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah.

Fans were expecting plenty of excitement when Tunku Mahkota Johor, Tunku Ismail ibni Sultan Ibrahim or better known as TMJ and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin along with two others, Tan Sri Annuar Musa and Tan Sri Aseh Che Mat, said they were joining the fray.

But Khairy made it clear that he would pull out of the race if TMJ decided to run for the post which the Johor crown prince did upon getting the assent of his father, Sultan Ibrahim ibni almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

So the frenzy among football fans and the public at large has somewhat fizzled out with the young and dynamic minister KJ as he's popularly known and the even younger TMJ are not facing each other after all.

The election for president is now down to a straight fight between TMJ and Umno information chief Annuar, a former Cabinet minister and ex-president of the Kelantan FA.

All indications show that TMJ is going to win hands down and I'm positive football fans are looking forward to his victory.

FAM is bound to go through a "baptism of fire" and a total shake-up under TMJ, ironically the biggest critic of the FAM for the past few years, describing the association as being run by the "wrong people" and uncaring of the players' welfare.

And he and Annuar have also been trading barbs and sound bites that make the contest between two strong personalities something everyone looks forward to.

Last week, TMJ added extra narratives to the contest.

"A lot of people have asked me what I was thinking when I decided to contest for the FAM presidency," he said.

"Some have even said that FAM is a bad organisation, what are you doing? My answer to that is FAM is not a bad organisation.

"FAM is a good organisation but is currently run by the wrong people. Let us not forget that FAM needs a leader who is born to serve the people.

"People with the will to continue to serve football for the people."

And he said FAM did not need people who are hungry for power and pretend to serve the people when they are only serving their own personal interests and benefits.

"This is a wonderful organisation and it's sad that it is being completely destroyed by these irresponsible people," he said.

These rebukes could only come from TMJ and no one else, not in the long history of the country's oldest sport body.

All football fans are also looking forward to a more transparent FAM from the one which for the past three decades has been intolerant to open criticism by suspending any official for doing so.

Even Annuar himself had in the past been the victim of such a gag rule.

TMJ has the means and the dynamism to take Malaysian football out of its current "neither here nor there" situation.

As he put it: "I am the guy who likes to take action because I believe actions speak louder than words."