BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Malaysia U-23's recent Asian Games campaign, in which they reached the round of 16 before they were edged out by Japan U-23, has provided some optimism among the fans regarding the future of the national team.
Earlier this year, the squad led by head coach Dato' Ong Kim Swee reached the quarter-final stage.
More promisingly, Malaysia U-19 and U-16 squads have also qualified for the AFC U-19 and U-16 finals this year, with the latter being hosted by Malaysia this September. A semi-final appearance in the two competitions will result in an automatic spot in the U-17 and U-20 World Cup finals in 2019.
For all the criticism levelled at those running the game in the country and especially at the Malaysian FA (FAM), the fans need to admit that in terms of youth development, improvements have been made by clubs, state FAs and the country's education and sports ministries.
It seems that FAM too isn't looking to rest on its laurel. Its newly-appointed secretary general, Stuart Ramalingam recently revealed to Goal that it is working to hold an annual domestic competition for the U-16 level, similar to the Youth Cup (U-19) and President's Cup (U-21).
"Over the coming years, part of the criteria for the clubs to compete in the Super League and the Premier League will be for them to come up with their own U-16 team. And it will then be FAM's responsibility to create an U-16 league. But a lot of needs and obligations will have to be considered; the school term, the custodianship of the children, school competitions, and examinations. So it will not be an easy conversation.
"But I believe the footballing fraternity is doing their part now; talking to the ministries and other stakeholders in the system in such a way that we can implement youth development beyond simply ticking boxes," revealed Stuart when met after the Youth Cup final match on Sunday.
When asked about the timeframe for the competition to be kicked off, Stuart provided an ambitious response that also pointed to the need to get as many trainees involved at that age level as possible.
"It will start off fairly soon; you can see that in the next two years' time. We've already held the discussions, and the league's creation is not a problem. Rather, it's who handles the competition, and how the league is going to be held throughout the schooling year, and how these lines are going to be crossed.
"And there is also the two-tier development system; there will be the elite development group, as well as the mass development. Because the bigger the base and funnel, the bigger the quality. We can't just focus on the best young talents, we also need to commit to the base, but the attempt to widen the base is the difficult part because it doesn't just involve us.
"That part of the discussions is still going on, and I know that the stakeholders and the ministries involved are keen. But at the same time considerations also need to be given to other aspects; because it will also impact the children's education, life, time and safety," he explained.
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