Malaysian football punishments welcome, but must be tip of the iceberg

Some long overdue punishments were handed down this week for clubs failing to pay players on time or complete the correct paperwork. As John Duerden argues, they are well overdue and must now be standard practice, rather than a one-off...

You can adapt a Winston Churchill quote for almost any situation and, in Malaysian football this week, one of his most famous came to mind: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they've tried everything else.”

Replace 'Americans' with 'Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP)' and while it may not sound quite so snappy, it would show the body which runs league football in Malaysia finally did the right thing.

The failure of Kelantan especially to pay players and coaches what they are owed has been a stain on Malaysian football for some time

On Tuesday this week, FMLLP deducted six points from four clubs that had failed to pay players' salaries or settle their income tax deductions and Employees Provident Fund contributions.

Two of these are in the top flight, Kelantan and T-Team, with Premier League sides ATM and Perlis suffering the same fate down in the second tier.

Both Super League sides were on 16 points after 11 games and looking to finish in the top four, at least. Now, they find themselves a point above the relegation zones and looking over their shoulders.

And quite right too. It had to be done.

It is unfortunate for the fans of these teams who turn up week in and week out, but the failure of Kelantan especially to pay players and coaches what they are owed has been a stain on Malaysian football for some time. As has the fact that it is only now being dealt with.

Kelantan are one of the biggest clubs in Southeast Asia and enjoy passionate support.

T-Team are suddenly in a relegation scrap

It is a club that should be the pride of Malaysian football, not an embarrassment.

Yet, incredibly, the Red Warriors have been signing new stars and coaches while still owing money to past players and tacticians.

To put it simply, as Jon McKain – an Australian defender who completed his two-year contract last October and is still waiting for part of his salary – did on Twitter, that’s just not right.

It is simple. You can't have a professional league if players are not paid. It should have been sorted out as soon as it became a problem.

There have been fines and warnings issued in the past but when clubs say they have little money and never really believe that action will be taken, then little changes.

It’s not just the foreign players or coaches like Steve Darby that go unpaid either. It impacts locals too.

There should now be some hope for those, who often have families to support, that they may receive what they are owed.

But that is not the end. While the events of Tuesday are an important step, the following points must also be addressed:

1. Firstly, complete this process

FMLLP has to follow through with this initial punishment until its conclusion. T-Team have already appealed, as is their right, and Perlis are unhappy.

These cases should be considered closely but whatever happens, the determination of Malaysian football to keep going ‘for the full 90’ must be strong.

Clubs that break the rules should not be let off the hook. 

2. Enforce the transfer bans

The quartet of teams will be handed transfer bans in the soon-to-open transfer window only if they do not produce documentation that deals with the settlement of debts by May 15.

Yet it seems that teams will be able to buy and sell players if they do not exceed their current spending.

Ramalingam must ensure action is completed

FMLLP chief executive Kevin Ramalingam said: "The semi-transfer ban was given so there is some room for teams to get things in order. For an example, they can still make some money in the transfer window and not handicap themselves in the process."

This can't be right. It should be simple: teams that fail to comply with the basic rule that underpins professional football – that employees are paid fully and paid promptly – should in no way be allowed to operate in the transfer market.

There can only be one rule: clear your debts, then you can do whatever you wish. Until then, there should be a full transfer ban.

3.Explain the Shahrom Kalam case

Defender Shahrom Kalam, who is now with Perak, has a case pending with the FAM Status Committee over his November 2016 payment while with Selangor.

FMLLP should make it clear why Selangor are not among the four being punished. If the Red Giants produced documents that the others did not, then what are they?

4.Make this the norm from now on

While FMLLP is to be congratulated for finally doing the right thing, the key is consistency. It is, or should have been, relatively easy to punish a team like Kelantan that has been an offender for some time and has tried the patience of many in Malaysian football.

Yet there needs to be swift punishment for the next offender as soon as a problem arises. Going forward, every club, no matter how big or small, must know that as soon as it fails to pay players and staff, then it is going to be hit and hit hard.

The real challenges will come in the future.

Shahrom is still waiting for his case to be resolved

Overall though, as sad as the situation is for the fans who have done nothing wrong and for Malaysian football in general, this is something that was long overdue and should be welcomed.

It is a major step in the right direction.

But, as Churchill also said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."