Football in Malaysia to fight hard to stay alive in 2021 and beyond

Malaysia Super League 2021 outlookGoal/Sports Regime

Sports in general took a massive hit this year because of the global pandemic outbreak with cancellations or postponements of major competitions and it was no different for football in Malaysia. The organisers of the elite competitions, Malaysian Football League (MFL) had to reduce its Super League and Premier League matches from 22 to 11 as well as annulling the FA Cup and Malaysia Cup competitions.

While the latter decisions were not ones which they wanted to make but nonetheless had to comply with the governmental restrictions that were set to curb the spread of Covid-19. That meant a failure to fulfil the stipulations in sponsorship contracts which ultimately led to the contract cancellations with CIMB and AirAsia for the 2021 season.

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“AirAsia has stated their intention to discontinue their sponsorship with MFL for the 2021 M-League season while CIMB has informed MFL of the same intention even though we have yet to receive an official word from them,” said Dato Ab Ghani Hassan in a statement released on Friday.

Two new sponsors are touted as potential replacements but let's not hide behind the fact that the power of negotiations will lie firmly in the hands of those two companies. Their business acumen would tell them to throw their weight on the fact that two previous sponsors have pulled-out and as such the financial values for the same sponsorship deals for a new season could be significantly lower than before.

But this is not a situation that is only impacting MFL but it is across the board. Teams have their respective sponsors and it is the same lack of fulfilment because of the reduced number of matches and no fans being allowed to attend the remaining games that were played. Not even the mighty Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) were exempted from this complications as club owner HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has divulged during a media session in October.

The 7-time Super League champions are looking to make some form of recovery in the coming season and despite the fact that they have announced a slew of retention within their squad, those deals are unlikely to be higher than previous contracts and might even have clauses in it which stipulates back-payments if the economic situation improves in the future.

Johor Darul Ta'zim, Super LeagueSports Regime

All in all that means a tightening of the belt would be required for the 2021 season and perhaps even further than that as football begins their path towards recovery. The Economic Control Programme (ECP) introduced by MFL as well as the requirements within the ‘Football Club’ structure that teams have to adhere to beginning next season will also put additional strain on the purses of these respective teams.

One of the immediate impacts which can be seen are the teams like Terengganu FC, Pahang and Kedah taking a more pragmatic approach towards the outlook of their squads with the culling of big names that are on bigger financial contracts compared to the rest of the team.

Lee Tuck, Dominique da Sylva, Sanjar Shaakhmedov, Hadin Azman, Khairul Helmi, Zaquan Adha, Shakir Hamzah, Dickson Nwakaeme and Faisal Halim were among those who were allowed to leave, supposedly in favour of younger talents coming through - or in another manner, a means of reducing the costs.

The fact that two teams in Felda United and UKM FC have been barred from competing next season because of individual reasons also mean there’s now a bigger pool of players available (whether that is better quality or otherwise) available for teams to replace the outgoings.

Safuwan Baharudin, Dickson Nwakaeme, Pahang v Selangor, Super League, 29 Feb 2020Sports Regime

With all the limitations and constraints on the teams and the league, there were also those who were in the opinion that the competition might be scrapped altogether but that will be a dangerous path to set upon on. It would set Malaysian football back and destroy the progress it has made in the past decade with a restart even more difficult than before if such a measure is taken.

For better or for worse, the football industry has to persevere in these difficult times and plough on, even if that means lower income all-around from top to bottom for the alternative could be unimaginable destructive to the game.