Passion, late payments and LionsXII: A close look at Malaysian football

As chief executive of the Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP), Kevin Ramalingam has the considerable task of overseeing the 15-year, RM1.26 billion (S$408 million) deal signed this year with media partners MP & Silva.

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FourFourTwo spoke to Ramalingam to get his thoughts on LionsXII’s involvement in the MSL, moves to ensure local clubs pay players on time and the unique challenges facing the sport in Malaysia.

FFT: Hi Kevin, thank you for your time. Let’s start with the Malaysian national team. It seems they have stemmed the bleeding somewhat after some worrying results?

There is a strong belief among the Malaysian teams that a Malaysian-only league is sufficient

KR: I think it just goes to prove that the six-nil and 10-nil results (against Palestine and UAE respectively) were as much of a surprise to us as anything, because we believe there is enough quality for us to pull off some decent results. The team went through a bit of a blip and hopefully the recent results (beating Laos in a friendly and Timor Leste in a World Cup qualifier) prove things are stabilising and we can hopefully return to the form we believe the players can produce.

FFT: The crowd trouble that marred the solid effort on the pitch against Saudi Arabia has been well documented. Football is obviously very well established in Malaysia, do you feel it can recover from these types of incidents?

KR: I do. While the fans are very passionate and they may use certain avenues to vent their passion, I think the key word here is passion. They will stick by the team through thick and thin. We’ve seen bad periods in Malaysian football in the past, but the fans have always been there and I trust that they will still be there when we’re lifting our next trophy together.

FFT: Ong Kim Swee was brought in as an interim coach to try to stabilise things. How do you feel he is performing in the role?

KR: Datuk Ong has always been a great technical coach. His planning and match-day preparations are exceptional. I believe that any team he coaches will be well prepared. He’s going to be successful whether he continues on with the national team or even if he moves on to a club side after his role with the national team. I think Datuk Ong Kim Swee will be around coaching for a long time.

Crowd trouble marred the recent match against Saudi Arabia

FFT: There is always a lot of debate about the merits of appointing a foreign coach or a local coach for Malaysia. I believe a task force has been set-up to identify the next coach. What are your thoughts?

KR: Foreign coaches would definitely bring a different proposition to the table. The experience that they have in other leagues or with other national sides that they’ve coached will always be beneficial to us. But it’s not just about getting a foreign coach. They need to have experience in handling a team that is in the position the Malaysian side is now in terms of world ranking and the structure of the national team.

We could appoint a foreign coach who is used to doing things a certain way and he comes out here and gets frustrated. That could easily happen as it’s not the same here as it is in other parts of the world. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, it’s just that things are done differently in different parts of the world. Foreign coaches do bring a different perspective and will definitely benefit us in many ways, but if we do go down that path, we need to find the right one.

FFT: So let’s take a look at the Malaysia Super League as a whole. How do you feel it is travelling and how is it perceived?