JUST next door across the Causeway, major plans were announced this week to further go world-class in football using the name of a regional legend: Mokhtar “Super-Mokh” Dahari.
And it is a timely lesson for the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) to come up with as ambitious and pragmatic plan as many of the Asean neighbours, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines, go in high-speed ways to boost the world’s No 1 sport.
Launching the second phase of the Mokhtar Dahari National Football Academy (AMD) in Kuantan, Pahang, the sports-loving Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said it was implemented through the National Football Development Programme at a cost of RM85 million (S$30million) and would help produce world-class football players.
Mokhtar ranks as Malaysia’s most celebrated footballer of Asian-striker-class and had brought extraordinary glory from 1972 to 1985. He passed away on July 11 1991 at the age of only 37. from muscular dysentery, a rare disease which caused deterioration of the muscles.
“The academy received its first group of students two weeks ago, comprising 185 students from Forms One to Four. In total, it can accommodate up to 375 students,” he said.
Khairy, the Youth and Sports Minister with a keen interest in football, said the students of the academy were the best of those selected for training at various football training centres throughout the country.
FIRST PHASE OF ACADEMY IN 2014
He added that the second phase of the academy involved the construction of 10 football fields including a synthetic one, as well as other facilities such as a physiotherapy centre.
The first phase comprised a building and five fields. It was launched in 2014 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak .
“The hostel is already operational and has opened its doors to 185 trainees for a start since two weeks ago,” said Khairy. “The hostel can accommodate as many as 375 trainees. The trainees who have already moved in to the hostel are made up of those from form one to form four.”
He said that AMD is a five-star academy and will be the place where budding, young, talented players from all across the country come to develop and hone their footballing skills.
He reiterated: “The academy is the future of Malaysian football and the only one of its kind in the Southeast Asian region.”
Over in Singapore, the FAS must seriously take a similar long-term leaf from Malaysia as the 80-page football development plan covers the first phase from 2014-2020 while the second phase will run up to 2030.
The New Paper reported that Singapore’s National Training Centre (NTC), to be sited in Kallang or Taman Jurong, is expected to be completed in 2018. But five years after the plan was unveiled, there appears to be traction for the NTC, which (technical director) Michel Sablon, who took up the post in April 2015, says is the right way to take Singapore football forward.
Malaysia’s first phase aims to produce junior players for the FA of Malaysia’s development programme — the various Young Tigers teams — and professional players for state and club sides. Malaysia has recently excelled at Asian Under 16, Under 18 and Under 23 levels with former international Lim Teong Kim, who was with Bayern Munich’s youth development programme, supervising the grassroots success.
Khairy says the first core area involves training players according to a “national style” – a diamond-shaped 4-4-2 system with an emphasis on speed, stamina, ball possession, aggression and turning defence into attack in an instant. It is hoped that this will develop into a unique Malaysian football concept and do away with the ubiquitous “hit-and-run” concept favoured by M-League teams.
FAMILY ‘VERY PROUD’ OF RECOGNITION
The family of national football legend Mokhtar Dahari are proud that a football academy in Gambang, Kuantan has been named in recognition of the maestro’s services to the nation.
“I hope the academy will produce new football talent not only on par with Mokhtar, perhaps better than him,” she said. According to Zarina, her husband who died 23 years ago was a firm and dedicated person who believed in continuous improvement and perseverance.
Mokhtar’s youngest daughter, Nur Arina Mokhtar said it was a dream for the family to see the national football squad achieve success at world level, one day.
“For me, my father is the family idol and he never neglected the family in pursuit of football. I believe many football fans are still raving about Mokhtar as their idol as well,” she said.
The Youth & Sports Minister reminded the younger generation to emulate the track record of Mokhtar, who he described as the “greatest son of Selangor”.
“He was not a politician, nor was he a pop star. He was a footballer. Although footballers nowadays, even Malaysian ones, receive constant adoration and are paid hefty sums of money, he was a footballer at a time when footballers had to keep a day job just to live comfortably,” he said.
“But that was enough for him. Whereas politicians constantly divide the people’s loyalty and pop singers demand fans’ adoration for their own selves, he only united his fans under two flags; those of his birth state Selangor and his country, Malaysia.”
Mokhtar was born November 13 1953 in Setapak, Selangor, and from an early age he showed his aptitude for sports. He would play various sports with his neighbourhood friends such as badminton, but in the end he would gravitate towards the beautiful game; football.
Attending the prestigious secondary school Victoria Institution also brought him closer to playing football at a higher level, and spurred on his obsession for football. At the age of 18 he would play for the Selangor youth team in the Burnley Youth Cup that was held in Sarawak.
The year 1974 was memorable for ‘Supermokh’, as he began to be known to the fans, as he helped the Malayan Tigers to an Asian Games bronze medal, scoring 24 times for them throughout the year, and he scored an unbelievable 19 goals for Selangor in that year’s Malaysia Cup alone.
“He was truly on the ascendancy, the first ever footballer to truly capture the imagination and hearts of supporters throughout Malaysia,” recalls award-winning former Singapore coach Jita Singh. Part of his prowess stemmed from his physique, he added.
‘TECHNIQUE TO COMPLEMENT STRENGTH’
“He was not immensely big, but he was muscular, as No 10’s back then normally were, and the strength of his calves and thighs gave him the ability to rocket his shots towards the goalmouth,” says Jita.
“But he was not simply strong, Mokhtar had the technique to complement his strength, and he was famous for his long solo runs up the field that would be finished off with a sizzling driver of a shot. He made his mark terrorising defenders both in Asean and Asia.”
Jita saluted the “extraordinary legacy of an exemplary footballer and sportsman”. He adds: “It’s a legacy that has never been surpassed by any other Malaysian footballers since. Such is the life of all heroes and legends. They burn the brightest, but they also burn out the quickest, leaving behind only stories, half-buried amidst lores and myths.”
Using the inspiration of “Super-Mokh” to fire up the younger generation is the right direction for Malaysia, notes Jita, who won the Malaysia Cup in 1981 and later also coached in Pahang and Johore.
He says: “Mokhtar lives still in the stadium, to the Selangor and Malaysia fans who are still waiting for a successor who is worthy to be compared with him. His face is emblazoned on fans’ banners and posters, and in that way, a local hero who gave his all for his state and country before his untimely death, 27 years ago, never truly died.
“The Academy is the most befitting tribute to him.”
• Suresh Nair is the only Singapore-based football journalist who covered the funeral of “Super-Mokh” in July 1991. He has known the late Mokhtar Dahari for over a decade at the height of his football supremacy in the 1980s.