Be It Football Or Hockey, A Good Result Unites The Nation Featured

Monday, 02 December 2013 16:04

AS you’re reading this, the national junior hockey team is in India for the 2013 Junior World Cup Hockey Championship, to be held at New Delhi's Major Dhyanchand National Stadium.

The Malaysian juniors rightfully earned the honour to participate in the Junior World Cup as Asian champions when they defeated Pakistan 2-1 in the finals held in Melaka back in May 2012.

For Malaysian hockey, the Asian cup triumph came after an exhausting 20-year wait - which may be a long time to wait but it is more than can be said for Malaysia’s football drought in trophies, which till this day has yet to return to its glory days in the 1970s and 1980s.

The 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup win was a saving grace of sorts but it is increasingly looking like a flash in the pan.

Today, there’s hardly a week that go by without coming across news – usually unpleasant and unresolved- about the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

Judging by the constant internal squabbling, controversies and other management-related issues, the organisation always seemed like it is more involved in figuring out themselves than staying firmly focused on improving the country’s football team’s game.

In the FIFA World Rankings, Malaysia’s highest standing was in the first release of the figures, in August 1993, at 75th. Today it is at 158.

For a country whose football fans worship the English Premier League and engage in incessant ‘expert’ debates about English football at the mamak shops and TV, we have a frustrating, undistinguished and incoherent national football team.

Why is this so?

Minarwan Nawawi, 42, the Malaysian juniors’ team manager, is an avid sportsman since primary school. He was a school footballer, hockey player and swimmer. So he knows more than a thing or two about sports -particularly hockey and football.

“Hockey is quite similar to football. Both games are a team event, fielding 11 players-a-side and use an ‘apparatus’ to score a round-shaped ball. The system, how you score goals, how you defend, set piece and training are similar.

“In fact, those days it is normal for school teachers to select school footballers to go for selection as school hockey players, said Minarwan, who is also known in the hockey fraternity as ‘The Boss’.

He was voted as one of the top ten players in the world by the International Hockey Federation (IHF) in 1999, an accolade unmatched.

He played in two World Cups, three Olympic events and a host of other major international tournaments in his 14-year career span. On the way, he racked up 319 international caps and 250 goals - the most ever scored in modern day hockey.

According to Minarwan, the difference that separate football players and hockey players are many but most paramount is attitude.

“Although local footballers are exposed to international football, get good funding support and have plenty of playing time, the make or break component is their mind-set,” said Minarwan.

He also said that national football teams in Malaysia doesn’t fully utilise modern technology to improve training.

“In hockey, we have software training system that records a video footage and analyses each players’ training session or game. This information is stored in a server of which each player with a smartphone can download the file and review their game, complete with comments from the coach -at anytime of the day,” he said.

Another difference that makes hockey more successful than football today, Minarwan points out, is the culture in the team to raise the standards of every player on the field to become equal to that of an Olympic or World Cup-class athlete.

“The national football team only need to do these things. They have the money and they have the manpower (compared to hockey),” added Minarwan.

Financially, Minarwan said, football takes the cake. He said that no matter how successful the national hockey team is in the international arena, priority in terms of funding will still go to the country’s most popular sport, especially from corporate sponsors.

But be it hockey or football, the contribution of national sports in Malaysia is a strong motivator for the people to have a sense of national pride, unity and solidarity.

Pandelela Rinong, Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Nicole David have all made people of differing political affiliations, race and religion to come together under the Jalur Gemilang when they make the headlines.

When Malaysia gets a great result in the world sporting arena, the nation will benefit in more ways than one.

“Sports don’t discriminate. When you are involved in sports, you are required to be inside a team, to work together as one. Being able to work hand-in-hand as a team is emphasised in sports, so that you have similar concerns and respect for one another.

“I think sports are the best way to unite the nation in difficult times. You can observe the intense reaction of local fans every time they rally and support our national team, there is nothing quite like it,” said Minarwan.

Before we ended our interview, we ask whether would Minarwan entertain the idea of taking the role of a football coach and occupy the seat left vacant by Datuk Rajagopal.

“In Holland back in the 1970s, in fact there was an instance where a hockey national team coach switches and took the helm as a national team football manager. But I doubt it will happen here,” said Minarwan, concluding our interview.


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