The 30-year Pahang reign in Malaysian football is ending – so what has been achieved?
Domestic revamps and the professional era
When Sultan Ahmad Shah became involved with the FAM in 1984, Malaysian football was very much in its amateur days. Some may argue football in the country is still run amateurishly but, on paper, Malaysia officially turned professional in 1994.
The structure in Malaysia initially turned semi-professional in 1989, then considered a half-way point at getting to the professional level.
The Malaysian Semi-Pro Football League comprised state teams, the police, army and neighbouring countries Singapore and Brunei in two divisions. The FAM Cup, a gateway for clubs to qualify for the historic Malaysia Cup, became the third tier, while the FA Cup was introduced in 1990.
The Malaysia Premier League (MPL) was then established in 1994 with the same sides featuring in a 16-team league. Promotion for clubs from the FAM Cup was only introduced in 1997 before a change in format in 1998, where the MPL was divided into two tiers.
Another change came in 2004 where FAM introduced the Malaysia Super League (MSL) as the top tier, thus downgrading the MPL to the second tier. The FAM Cup remained the third tier.
There have been changes to the number of teams in the league since, once even conveniently ‘saving’ Pahang from relegation, but there have been no other major changes.
Privatisation and the attempted fourth tier
Realising there was a need to have a separate company run the league, the FAM set up Malaysian Super League (MSL) Sdn Bhd in 2004 as a commercial arm of the national body, but things never really took off.
The company has since closed shop and FAM – now headed by Sultan Ahmad Shah’s son, Tengku Abdullah – attempted to privatise the league again following a deal with international media rights company MP & Silva in 2015.
The Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) was then established and are organising the competitions for the second season now, though FAM are still seen to be running the show. The returns are still subjective with FMLLP falling short of the expected RM70 million revenue set for 2016.
The decision-makers also made attempts at widening the sport’s reach in Malaysia, first with Liga Nasional in 1992 to cater for teams that could not get into the third tier.
The league comprised teams such as Hong Chin, Proton, Muar and so on but it folded after just one season and wasn’t revisited until FAM introduced the Liga Bolasepak Rakyat (LBR) in 2015. LBR consists of district teams and comprised of players aged only 28 and below.
LBR attracted 109 teams in its first season but the jury is still out on it.
Major qualification merely a pipe dream
Having once been considered above the likes of Korea and Japan, Malaysia’s story in the international scene makes for rather deprressing reading.
Olympic qualification in 1980, the Games held in Moscow that Malaysia later boycotted, proved to be the last time the Tigers would earn a place at that international level.
Malaysia have also never qualified for the Asian Cup on merit, repeatedly failed at the Asian Games and are yet to reach a World Cup, the latter surely a distant dream for the foreseeable future considering the rut the country is in.
FIFA rankings have also hit all-time lows. The Tigers, who were ranked 75th when the ranking system was introduced in 1993, are now at No.162 in the world. Last April, Malaysia were at No.175 – their worst result ever.