Finally, after years and years head shaking by Malaysians whenever we talk of the national or state football teams, we now have something to sink our teeth in. Its very easy to be critical of everything when asked why Malaysian actual footballing standard is nowhere near the average Malaysian's passion for the game. First let's get some common questions/doubts/assertions out of the way:
a) the best years are behind us - that's a bullshit sentiment, it all depends on what we put in, its never too late to change or modify our ways, if we keep a negative attitude... that kind of defeatist attitude will get everybody nowhere but a dead end
b) K. Rajagopal - for the past 15 years, there is no better coach than K. Rajagopal, authorities please bear that in mind
c) racial imbalance - is there a racial imbalance in the current squad, well yes... but nobody should really complain because many Chinese do not play football after their teenage years, its worse now with the proliferation of internet and PC games, guess who will be still at the fields playing ... take the Singapore experience, they even have a pro league and Singaporean Chinese make up less than 20% of the players ... its reality. Now, the only time you see Chinese playing football in Malaysia is on weekends when the old farts play futsal.
This under-23 squad stands a good chance to make a mark as a top 5 Asian team, maybe even qualify for the next Olympics, if the cards are played right. If Japan and South Korea can be where they are now, Malaysia can certainly get there because these two teams' football standard were still lagging behind Malaysia back in the 60s and 70s.
Brief History of Malaysian Football Grandest Period
Top coaches, when we say top, we mean they were really good, 1960s coach Abdul Ghani Minhat, Dave McLaren, followed by in the 70s Jalil Che Din, M. Kuppan, Chow Kwai Lam and Karl-Heinz Weigang.
In the early 1950s until the 1960s, Malaya's best accomplishment was winning the Asian Games bronze medal in 1962 in Jakarta by defeating South Vietnam 4-1. Top players then include: Abdul Ghani Minhat ("King Football"), Arthur Koh, G. Govindaraju, Robert Choe, Edwin Dutton and Stanley Gabriel.
Following the formation of Malaysia, there were other great players including: Abdullah Namat, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Wong Fook Chuan, N. Thanabalan, Norbit and Abdullah Zulkifli Nordin. Malaysia managed to qualify for the 1972 Olympics in Munich by beating the likes of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. Two years later, Malaysia once again won the bronze medal in 1974 Asian Games in Tehran after beating North Korea 2-1. Malaysia continued to be a force in Asia by qualifying for subsequent Asian Cups in 1976 and 1980.
In the mid-70s, this is where the Malaysian team was most balanced and talented. Each player is like a superstar in their own right. They include: Mokhtar Dahari, Harun Jusoh, Santokh Singh, M. Chandran, Soh Chin Aun, R. Arumugam, Shaharuddin Abdullah, Wong Choon Wah, P. Umaparan, Wong Hee Kok, Shukor Salleh, Lim Fung Kee, Wong Kou Foo, Isa Bakar, Ali Bakar, Syed Ahmad, ... If you have seen them in action, you would liken them to a very good Premier League team, seriously.
Malaysia also qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but the government boycotted the 1980 Olympics to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. Even in the early 80s the players were still pretty fantastic, we had Reduan Abdullah, Serbegeth Singh, Hassan Sani, Chow Chee Keong, Lim Teong Kim, Zainal Abidin, Bakri Ibni ...Wong Choon Wah (17 Feb 1970)
Shaharuddin Abdullah (12 Aug 1970)
Super Mokh deserves special mention here, in 1975, he represented the Malaysia national football team against English giants Arsenal. Malaysia won the game 2–0, with Mokhtar scoring both goals. After the game, Mokhtar was rumoured to have been offered a chance to play for the Gunners. He also famously scored a goal in a 1–1 draw against England national football team's B team in 1978, dribbling past half of the opposing team coached by Bobby Robson (almost reminiscent of Ryan Giggs' very special goal against the Gunners in that famous FA Cup semi final tie). Paul Mariner was on the score sheet for England that day.
We can all sit back and blame corruption in the local league, or the advent of subscription TV which brought fans closer to European football, as causes for the demise of Malaysian footballing standard - to be fair, there is a strong element of truth in both. It was never going to be a great way to earn a living, as a footballer in Malaysia and as our lifestyle options increased, as our country developed, we basically had a lot more things to do than play football in the fields.
When we had nothing, playing football was great and cheap and widely available ... if we had top spinning competition, badminton, sepak takraw contests then ... we would be more than capable and competitive. We just don't do much of all that now - when was the last time your kids or nephews played those games?