BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Talks of consolidating the three professional clubs with links to the Selangor state government have been rife in the past month, with plans for the Selangor FA (FAS) to absorb fellow Super League side and affiliate club PKNS FC, as well as Premier League side Selangor United, confirmed by Selangor state Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Amirudin Shari recently.
While PKNS and United have both expressed a quiet reluctance towards the plan, FAS is eager to absorb them into its organisation, revealed its secretary-general Johan Kamal Hamidon to Goal last weekend.
PKNS FC. Photo by Sports Regime
"I definitely agree [with the plan], but we'll be okay even if the plan doesn't go through as we have our own plans. We've already got our own strategies and we already know what we need to do for the next three to five years.
"But having this (consolidation plan) come into play may expedite things, and we may achieve a lot more. Everything hinges upon the resources we have, so the more resources we have, the better it is," said Johan when met after the Selangor Ladies team's Tun Sharifah Rodziah Cup semi-final match against Kedah Ladies last Saturday.
Johan also spoke of the need for professional football in the country to return to how it used to be, when it was participated almost exclusively by state-based teams, with the caveat that they are privatised, drawing the example of six-time consecutive Super League champions of Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
"I believe that Malaysian football should go back to how things were years ago; it was competed by state teams. You see, football clubs are based on the followers they have; the more followers they have, the bigger the value. If you don't have followers, you're not a club, you're just a team of people playing football.
"I don't want to sound condescending, but teams that can't attract fans or people who feel a sense of belonging contribute no commercial value to the highest league and MFL (Malaysian competitions organiser MFL). What value does teams like PKNP FC bring to the table? I'm not talking about the development work they've been doing; I'm talking about their followers or fans, no one cares what happens to them.
"This does affect other teams, for example when a good team plays against a small club, there's no interest among the followers, as compared to when a state team plays another," explained the Selangor team official.
When asked, Johan frankly admitted that he does not foresee a future whereby a non state-based can succeed in the country.
"Honestly, no. And it's not me saying it out of nowhere, it's based on what I've seen in the past years. We've seen so many of these clubs come and go; Sime Darby FC, Public Bank FC, MPPJ FC for example, and it's not healthy for the league!
Sime Darby FC. Photo from Sime Darby FC
"These are professional teams whose plans did not extend beyond the year. Sponsors wouldn't want to see this and fans shy away from supporting them because there is no certainty. I'm sure the clubs worked hard, but certain things go beyond simply working hard; sentiments, history, sense of belonging are aspects that cannot be created out of nothing.
"Since its inception, Malaysian football has been based on state [teams] and it's hard to change this culture... I know there have been clubs participating in the FA Cup, but they will never be bigger than the state teams. Never," he stressed.
He proposed that with the exclusive participation of state teams, the Malaysian pro league adopt a closed competition format that does away with promotion and relegation, much like the Australian A-League.
"Even with the current format, there are only 12 teams in the Super League. They cannot expand it to 20 because of the lack in quality of players, while the sustainability of a lot of teams is questionable, so it can't grow.
"Australia has only 10 teams in their A-League but they're doing better than us. Why? Because their state-level competitions are very competitive. When Datuk Ong's team (Ong Kim Swee's Harimau Muda) went there some years ago, they played at the state level and only finished mid-table. Even at the state level, the teams there are comparable to a national squad.
"So that's what we should go for, and it's more sustainable because the logistics costs are reduced, and the player salaries will be lower as they will play part-time, semi-professionally.
"The professional level will be without promotion and relegation, but to be honest, Malaysian football is at a stage where promotion and relegation is the least of our concerns. Even with promotion and relegation now, it's not very attractive.
"So what I'm proposing is for there to be just one top-tier league competed by just the state teams, with the state associations running their own state leagues. That way you can draw the crowd back through entertaining games, just like how it was back then," explained the former student association official.
However, this does not mean that the smaller clubs have no role to play under the proposed system according to Johan. It simply means that they will compete semi-professionally in the state leagues.
"We don't need many teams in the Super League to get everyone involved in football. We need an environment where leagues are run locally and that's a part of the proposal. FAS is planning to make the local leagues even more attractive, like how it was 20, 30 years ago. The FAS League is doing very well as compared to the previous years, and our role includes getting more people interested in playing football, while having one [state] team that they are proud of, one that unites everyone and represents the pride in the state.
"The clubs can still be involved in talent development, which doesn't necessarily need to take place at the highest level. Bank and company clubs can sign players part-time, players who work day jobs for them when they're not playing or training. Development can happen in the local leagues, which is then channelled to FAS which has the best team.
"We at FAS want to lead by example by showing to the other associations how it can be done. If other states want to learn to do it, we'll be more than happy to share how to do it. I believe it is the way forward. It won't be an easy transition, as you need to empower the state associations and make sure they are up to par to run their own leagues," noted Johan.
He added that consolidation talks have been held with the parties involved, and that if the plan to absorb PKNS and United were to go through, it will happen sooner rather than later, due to FAS' need to plan for the coming season early.
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Felda United dan PKNP FC kedua-duanya sedang bergelut menentang penyingkiran. Tetapi ada kemungkinan apabila mereka bertembung pada hujung ini, ketua-ketua jurulatih mereka, yang sedang mengikuti kursus pada masa ini, akan berkongsi kereta ke Manjung! Relegation-threatened sides @feldaunitedfc and @pknpfc will meet this weekend, but there is a chance that their respective head coaches, who are undergoing a pro licence course currently, will carpool to Manjung!