By Michael Y.P. Ang
With innocence written all over his face, SEA Games soccer team coach Aide Iskandar raised an issue that was whispered about many, many times before.
Where are the Chinese players in our soccer teams?
The real question to ask is: Why are the Chinese players shunning football?
There are two reasons. One, poor salaries. Every S-League club is subjected to an $85,000-monthly salary cap. With a 20-man squad, the average salary is $4,250.
National team and foreign players are paid more than new players. Therefore, the former group receives salaries above the $4,250 average, leaving the latter group to make do with less.
Presumably, clubs pay more-experienced players $6,000-$8,000 monthly. Whatever is left of the $85,000 pie would likely result in salaries that are no more than $3,000 for rookies.
How can this entice a young man with a university degree, or even a polytechnic diploma, to embrace a professional football career that normally ends by age 35?
There are nine local S-League clubs receiving an FAS subsidy annually.
If the FAS reduces that number to five, it raises the standard of each club by gathering the most talented players from the original nine clubs. The subsidies for the four axed clubs should be evenly distributed among the five clubs that survived the cut, resulting in an 80% subsidy hike.
This makes a 67% raise in a new player’s starting salary from $3,000 to $5,000 achievable.
The five clubs, plus the LionsXII, could play in a revived FAS Premier League. The six teams would complete a season in 10 rounds of matches, after which the LionsXII can continue with their Malaysian league commitments, while the other five teams will join the three foreign S-League clubs in a revamped S-League.
Two, the non-Malay boys in our soccer teams feel out of place. It is natural for the Malay players, who make up a majority in our teams, to keep to their own kind.
That was not so many years ago. The racial mix was good with Chinese and Indian players providing a perfect melting pot within the national team.
The lack of a good racial mix was evident for many years, yet the FAS did very little to correct the imbalance.
Aide’s reason for having more Chinese players is flawed. He says that without the Chinese players, soccer matches played at the upcoming Sports Hub will not attract the crowds.
More racially-balanced teams are needed not for the money potential but to keep the spirit of multi-racialism alive and kicking.
Furthermore, the racial imbalance reveals that the FAS is tapping no more than 20% of the population for talent.
Given that the Lions have been toothless against continental opposition for decades, it is critical the FAS devise a concrete plan to recruit more V Sundram Moorthys, Gabriel Quaks, Goh Tat Chuans, and Lim Tong Hais.
You now have the ball at your feet, FAS.