News Live Scores

OPINION: Hands off PKNS, they're too good to be Selangor's feeder team

11:56 EAT 12/06/2018
Rafael Ramazotti, PKNS FC
The call to consolidate Selangor and PKNS is a step in the wrong direction for professional football in the country.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

Last week, Selangor-based teams Selangor and PKNS FC played twice in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), with the match on Wednesday ending in a 2-1 win for the Red Giants and their Sunday clash ending in a 2-2 draw.

Coincidentally, the two sides will meet two more times later this month, after the short Aidilfitri break, in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Amidst the four-match galore in June between the two teams, the issue of PKNS' role in the state has been raised again, with the state government youth and sports executive councillor Amirudin Shari telling Stadium Astro that he is not ruling out turning the Red Ants into the Red Giants' feeder club; a working relationship that is almost similar to their previous arrangement.

Before the Selangor state government acrimoniously withdrew their patronage of the Red Giants at the end of the 2016 season, PKNS were an affiliate of the Selangor FA (FAS) and players of both teams would switch sides regularly. But when FAS threatened to retaliate against the state government's decision by withholding PKNS' clearance to play in the M-League, the Red Ants deftly switched affiliations to the Malaysian Malays FA and promptly obtained their annual permission to compete. Later in the season, PKNS would go on to beat Selangor in both of their MSL matches.

PKNS defeated Selangor 5-3 on February 4, 2017. Photo from PKNS FC Facebook

It remains to be seen whether the recent reemergence of the call to consolidate PKNS and Selangor was indeed caused by the recent political changes in the country, but it is a call that must be opposed by not only PKNS officials and fans, but also the Malaysian football fraterntity.

At the moment, there are already three feeder clubs or developmental teams that compete in the Malaysian football pyramid; Johor Darul Tazim II and Terengganu FC II play in the Premier League, while the Felda United reserve team Young Fighters compete in the FAM Cup. The addition of another team that cannot play for promotion will further erode the Malaysian second tier's competitiveness, as it would leave essentially only nine clubs to fight for the two promotional spots in the league. Not to mention that the main teams constantly cannibalise their feeder teams by calling up their best players for MSL matches, which then scuppers their 'little brothers'' ability to stay competitive.

Furthermore, there are rumours that several teams may fold in the next few years due to the recent political changes, and the consolidation of Selangor and PKNS would further reduce the number of professional clubs in the country.

Secondly, the move to consolidate Selangor and PKNS runs counter to the push to have Malaysian clubs step into the 21st century, by privatising and practicing self-sufficiency. At the moment, almost all clubs in the top two tiers receive direct and indirect government funding, which has contributed to their inability to make long-term plans and investments. The Selangor state government might have caught some flak from many Selangor fans due to their abandonment of the Red Giants back in the 2016 season, but that move was ultimately necessary.

It happened when the board of the team refused to kowtow to the government's directive of axing two of its board members, and it was arguably only fair that the club then be made to find their own way without the government's funding. Since then the club have struggled financially and have had to rely on young players in order to shrink the size of their wage bill, but they are still in the top tier and have reached the 2017 FA Cup semi-finals. And if there is a Malaysian club that will finally figure out how to secure sponsorships and be financially self-sufficient, then our money is on the club that are based in the richest region in the country.

It is also disappointing to not see anyone at PKNS speaking out against the call for them to play second fiddle to Selangor again, considering that the Red Ants are one of the best-run sides in the country's professional football. They have their own training complex and pitches in Kelana Jaya, situated just 3 kilometres from the FAS office, which in comparison was in various states of disarray and decay on our visit there last month. The Red Ants too very rarely get in the headlines for wage issues, unlike many clubs in the country.

PKNS training in Kelana Jaya

Our conversations with the club staff have revealed a degree of club loyalty that is rarely seen elsewhere in the country. It is now time for them to harness this loyalty and speak out against the push to have the club play a supporting role, which is frankly an insult to a well-run side such as theirs. If a feeder club needed to be formed out of the consolidation; then surely it's not Selangor II, but PKNS II instead.

However, those same conversations also hinted at a 'factory team' mentality that borders on exclusivity, which is one aspect of their operations that have been criminally overlooked. Instead of engaging with fans in the state in order to get bums on seats on matchdays, they seem content to only be supported by the staff of parent company, the Selangor State Development Corporation.

This lack of a fanbase has in turn been used by those who support the consolidation push and envious Selangor fans; "Why do PKNS bother competing? No one turns up to watch them play." And as much as the call for consolidation is short-sighted, this argument is not without its merit.

Even if the collection of a packed stadium did not contribute significantly to their budget, a fanbase goes a long way towards cementing their reputation and legitimacy as a top-tier side. It is times like this that hardcore supporters would play their part, by rallying behind the club to protest any decisions that go against their interest. The Red Ants need to be more concerned about their lack of a noticeable fanbase in the future.

The consolidation of the two clubs needs to be opposed, not just by their fans and staff, but also by the Malaysian football fraternity, if they are concerned about the future of the sport in the country. It's time that more footballing decisions are made by the coaches and the talents, instead of the government.

Hopefully, when the two sides meet again in the cup semis later this month, it is the tie itself that will take centre stage, while the call for consolidation will have been forgotten.