Friday, April 06, 2007

trouble, too, at the home front

I’ve been thinking of the right words to express my feelings about the current state of our Malaysian futsal team for a week now, but I guess there’s no fancy way to say it so I’mma just give it to ya straight:

We are in serious trouble, mister.

Last week, my friends in the national squad battled it out at the bi-annual AFF championships in Thailand. This time, they were lead by local chap, Coach Bala (whom, I believe, was their trainer prior to the arrival of Silvio Machado in December’02).

Now, a little history lesson. We met the Thais in the last two AFF finals (2003 & 2005). Granted, we lost both of these matches but the goal difference were only a mere 4.

This time, though, we met our northern neigbour at the semis, and we <<>> 13-0.

THIRTEEN! And to none! Now this, ladies and gents, was the fact that I found truly hard to stomach over the past 7 days.

Sigh. I wonder what Lula (as Coach Silvio is known) has to say about this. All his hard work to lessen the gap between us and the Thais, and now it’s almost back to square one. It’s as if he never came. Sad, very sad.

But know what? Perhaps I should laugh instead. I mean, what the hell was FAM thinking? That by eliminating a Brazillian coach, a local coach can take us further?

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those who glorify the abilities of foreigners and look down on Malaysians. But it is important for us to sedar diri if we haven’t sufficient knowledge nor experience in a certain field, for serious. It’s simple, plain logic, really.

I don’t mean to live in the past, but if someone can tell me how to better the fate of futsal in our country, then only shall I stop dwelling on the memory of a greatness that touched Malaysian futsal once upon a time, but have since been lost and greatly missed…

Prior to the Brazillian’s arrival in December 2002, what we thought was futsal was actually a bunch of footballers plucked from the outdoor fields and planted onto the smaller indoor courts. (Read: futsal knowledge=zero.)

So, what has the past 36-or-so months brought in terms of accolades to Malaysian futsal?

Under Mr Machado’s guidance, the Malaysian futsal contingent joined seven international tournaments, out of which a total of 31 matches were played. Our boys pushed themselves to three finals, losing to SEA’s big guns Thailand twice (AFF Futsal Championship 2003 & 2005) but more importantly, clinching their first-ever Champion title from rivals Indonesia in front of a beaming home crowd at the KL World 5s 2003 (Bowl category).

All in all, Lula and his boys battled their way to a total of 13 wins, 1 draw and 17 losses. Make that just 13 losses, since the other four friendly-match call-ups in Chinese-Taipei should not be taken into consideration. Why? Well, I’ve discounted the said games because our squad only had one weeks’ worth of training.

Since we’re on the topic, I would like to open eyes and dawn some realisation onto the less learned. In his three-year reign as Head Coach of the Malaysian national futsal team, Lula only got to train his boys for a collective amount of 6.9 months. That’s a shocking 19.2% out of 36 months!

Thus, how anyone can expect—or worse still, demand—huge successes when the resources are puny is beyond me. Think about it. You’ve got a team which is less than 3 years old, and you get only, what, a week or two max to train (which includes preparing your players both physically and mentally, and revisit as well as introduce new technical and tactical stuff) prior to a major tournament!

That, coupled with the sad fact that Malaysia has neither professional futsal players nor national/professional leagues—a vital avenue of keeping players’ forms up during off-season—I find it amazing that the national team has come thus far. As Faarhad Masraf, a fellow active futsal fanatic (who also coaches team Dinamix, made up of budding junior futsallers, as well as men’s club side, Samba FC) cites: “Before this, we were only third string in AFF [Futsal Championship] and always were being outclassed by the Thais and Indos. But now, the Thais can only score small-margin wins over us, and they know for sure that given a bit more time (and with proper guidance), we can overturn the tables on the Thais and even compete among the best in Asia.”

Let’s study a comparison between us and our northern neighbours, who, after years of building futsal in their country, have been dubbed the honorary title of “The Brazil of Asia.”

Thailand has its own pro- and semi-pro leagues. Malaysia has "liga haram" A lot of Thai players train in Brazil. We had one Brazillian coach coming here to educate and make ends meet with limited support. Thailand constantly has international friendlies, in their country and overseas. Here, we only have "exhibition matches" (which is a rare occurrence) as well as friendlies with the top “liga haram" teams. In Thailand, futsal is part of the curriculum in schools and universities. In Malaysia, futsal is known only to a select group of people.

You’d probably be thinking “well, the Thai national futsallers deserve all that for their proven successes.” But get this: even Indonesia, considered at par with Malaysia in futsal years, is going out of their way to inject more power into their national team. A month before this year's AFC Futsal Tourney, their first team was flown to Spain (or was it Brazil? either way, this is a big deal as Spain are the current reigning World Champs, and Brazil is regarded as one of the globe's best as well) to train and gain overseas exposure. And what do our boys get? Fourteen days of centralised training after months of inactivity. Well, Hallelujah!

Despite the hardship and lack of support, Lula fought on. With approval from FAM sans monetary allowance, Lula drafted and implemented futsal developments plans for various levels. Keep in mind that as national coach, he was only responsible for the national senior team. But the Brazillian was all too happy to go beyond his job scope, all in the name of ensuring that futsal—proper futsal, mind you—flourishes in our country.

With the help of other coaches, some national players and money dug out of his own pockets, Lula carried out programmes for the national Under-23, U-20, U-17 and even one called “Futsal For Beginners.” Other than that, he also shared his wisdom tirelessly with local club teams who seeked him out. Even small-fry ones like my ladies’ team, the Sports Barn Wildcatz, have had the honour of this great man gracing our training sessions. Slowly but surely, those who were monitoring the progress of their beloved game were both delighted and impressed by the kind of improvement that was unfolding before their very eyes.

In return, Lula expected nothing but commitment towards his cause; he wouldn’t even accept loot in exchange for coaching hours. It is this grand display of selflessness and fervour that earned him the adoration and respect of his players (who stuck with him despite receiving painful daily cursing and tongue-lashings) and many other devoted local futsal followers. It’s obvious that he does everything for the pure love of the game.

Why? Because Silvio Sergio Astor Guimaraés Machado, three-time Futsal World Cup winner, has pure faith in the talents that he’s seen in this country.

If only our own people have the same passion and belief embedded in them.

*Taken from my farewell tribute to Lula entitled “Still can’t believe it’s over” at

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