Division, disunity within team led to Harimau Malaya’s AFF Cup flop

Photo used for illustration purposes only

PETALING JAYA – The Harimau Malaya independent investigation body has listed two main factors – division and lack of harmony within the team – for the national side’s dismal performance in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup 2020 in Singapore last month.

The independent investigation body chief, Datuk Dell Akbar Khan, said the Harimau Malaya squad was divided into three groups, with the local, naturalised and heritage players forming their own cliques in Singapore.

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The investigation also revealed that the inadequate preparation time, namely just one day of centralised training, before the team left for Singapore, had played a part in the team failing to get past the group stage.

This was due to the 2021 Malaysia Cup schedule that ended on Nov 30 – just six days before the Harimau Malaya’s opening tie against Cambodia on Dec 6.

Dell Akbar said these were among the investigation body’s 10 findings after interviewing several parties, including the management of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), coaches and players, adding that the body also faced some problems in conducting its probe, including time constraint and receiving incomplete reports, especially involving the technical division.

Dell Akbar, who is a former national player and former FAM secretary-general, was also disappointed that former Harimau Malaya coach Tan Cheng Hoe could not attend the interview session and could only be reached by telephone.

“We found that Cheng Hoe did not have the services of several core players as he felt that he could not call them up from their clubs. This contradicted FAM president (Datuk) Hamidin Mohd Amin view that he (the coach) could get any player he wanted.

“We also found that the target was set in silo by team manager (Datuk Mohd Yusoff Mahadi), which then became a form of pressure for the coaches and players,” he told a media conference at Wisma FAM here today.

He said the independent investigation body also found that the presence of naturalised player, Guilherme de Paula, did not have a major impact on the Harimau Malaya at the AFF Cup, which is a more intensive tournament compared to the domestic league.

Other weaknesses flagged up included the players’ inability to compete on the international stage, tactical plans, lack of support team such as sports science and sports medicine, as well as player welfare.

Dell Akbar also outlined 10 improvement suggestions for FAM’s consideration so as to avoid a recurrence of such a debacle.

Among the suggestions included setting a minimum centralised training period of 14 days for the AFF Cup, preparing a reporting template that is more comprehensive, setting contingency plans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring the MFL coordinate their league schedule with that of the national team.

The independent investigation body also proposed the setting up of a high-performance team comprising technical, science and sports medicine staff, analysts as well as statistics officials as practised by foreign teams to raise the team’s performance level in a more structured and evidence-based manner.

“We are also of the view that there is no need to continue the practice of appointing a team manager from among FAM officials. The post should be given to the head coach (coach-cum-manager). A chief of delegation post should instead be introduced, if necessary, and limited to ceremonial duties only,” he said.