Monday, September 07, 2009


There can be few stark contrasts in fortunes as the rise of Singapore and the fall of Malaysia, both of whom began at around the same point of time in the 1990s.

Malaysia had once been a dominant player in South East Asia, and even gave the more illustrious names in Asia a fright although never quite at their level. The local league was thriving and well-supported, even attracting foreigners (including Australians) to its ranks, and home-grown stars who were much-appreciated by Malaysian fans.

Unfortunately, it all blew up spectacularly in 1994 when a bribery scandal broke out. The credibility of Malaysian football with the public was permanently damaged - the standard declined dramatically and fans stayed away. Malaysia descended to being one of the minnows of the region, on a par with many Oceania teams.

It was around this time that Singapore, who had fielded a team in the Malaysian league, chose to plot its own independent path. The country had even exported a player to Europe, Fandi Ahmad, who played for Groningen in the mid-1980s and scored in European competition. By 1996, a professional league was set up.

It took time. The appointment of former Notts County goalkeeper Raddy Avramovic in 2003 to the national team post began the rise of Singapore to become one of South-East Asia’s best teams and even achieving a modicum of respectability in the wider Asian scene.

In many ways, the contrasting football fortunes of the two countries reflect the respective states of the two countries. The endemic corruption and mismanagement of Malaysian football reflects a wider problem in Malaysian society, where there is now widespread dissatisfaction with the current government - a situation not dissimilar to Hungary.

Singapore, in contrast, is a country with efficient and corruption-free government, and its football administration has made many strides in developing the local game. Malaysian football also suffers from low morale and poor discipline among many of its players. It’s highly unlikely this will change until there is real political change too.