Are Malaysia ready for life without Harimau Muda?

Harimau Muda's cancellation might be music to some, but Vijhay Vick explains why Malaysian football is now in a race against time...

The Harimau Muda project was set up in 2007 to fill the void left by a lack of development at club level in Malaysian football. The set-up was eventually expanded to three teams – under-23s, under-21s and under-19s.

It was merely a stop-gap measures to ensure Malaysia had a stream of good youth players coming up the ranks. One could argue that it served its purpose as Malaysia won the 2009 and 2011 SEA Games and 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup with squads filled made out mostly of Harimau Muda players.

Eleven former and present Harimau Muda players were also included in the last national squad for matches against Palestine and United Arab Emirates in November. Seven others have been utilised since the start of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Everyone knew Harimau Muda was not a long term project but questions remain if Malaysia are ready for life after Harimau Muda as its players are released from their contracts.

Apart from Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), Malaysian teams have yet to place an emphasis on youth development. The Youth League only runs for three months while President's Cup players only play 18-23 matches a year, far less than the 40-50 matches a year age-group teams play in Japan.

Having disbanded the Harimau Muda project, FAM are in a race against time to provide a better competition platform for youngsters to climb the ranks. Youth academies must start blooming at all clubs.

And that is where technical director Fritz Schmid must show his worth. Having been in the national set-up for over a year, the time has come for him to ensure such concerns are addressed.

In an interview with FourFourTwo in October, the Swiss UEFA pro license coach said it was FAM’s duty to ensure clubs are offered the best possible support to establish high-quality youth structures.

“Fritz has been tasked to come up with recommendations to improve youth football – including the competitions – as soon as possible and we’ll take things from there,” said FAM deputy president Datuk Seri Afandi Hamzah.

“Give us a chance to get things right. Disbanding Harimau Muda was the first step. Now we have to ensure youths have good competitions. With Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) handling the MSL, Malaysia Premier League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup, we need to ensure remaining leagues under our watch are up to mark.

“There are also suggestions to compel teams to field to a minimum number of either under-23 or under-21 players. We will consider this too during FMLLP’s workshop with teams.”

While FAM did announce plans for a special Project 2017 squad for the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, there are concern abut the development of the present under-19 boys under Hassan Sazali Waras.

The team comprises some of the best teenagers the country has produced, including many players from the successful 2014 Malaysian under-16 side. That under-16 squad under S. Balachandran were one match from qualifying for the 2015 Under-17 World Cup – the closest the Malaysians have been to a World Cup of any sort.

Returning to M-League teams could stifle their progress as youth development at club-level is still in an embryonic stage.

The lack of opportunities at present demand action, otherwise it may well be a case of FAM putting the cart before the horse … yet again.