Thursday, October 27, 2016


Harsh Lessons For Kelantan & Tampines Rovers

Recent events at a couple of South East Asian clubs have shown just how far the region is from fully embracing a professional culture from top to bottom. While the likes of Johor Darul Ta'zim and Muang Thong United attract praise aplenty for their efforts to build something substantial and sustainable that looks beyond the short term bling of a media friendly name, and we can add Indian side Bengaluru to that all too short list, most of the rest of the clubs are mired in short termism at the behest of perhaps well meaning officials who lack the resources to drive a club forward.

Tampines Rovers are perhaps the nearest thing Singapore has to a glamour club. Successful in recent years, at the start of the 2016 they recruited heavily adding Jermaine Pennant and hoovering up many players from the LionsXII side that competed in Malaysia. Unfortunately while the investment looked to have paid off early in the season with some healthy attendances by local standards out in Jurong little was done to build on that momentum and halfway through the season the club was issuing warnings about cash flow problems.

Unfortunately despite the wealth of talent available the Stags were unable to mount a sustainable bid for the title and without the results on the pitch the fans, inconvenienced by the trek across the island, decided to stay away and by the end of the season the club was saying they wouldn't be able to pay player more than $2,500 grand next season in salaries. Hardly the best preparation for the upcoming Singapore Cup Final, their only chance of snatching some sense of glory from the season and some local pride in a league where Albirex Niigata have been picking up trophies at will.

There is no point in buying a super car if you can't afford even the basic maintenence and the new chief at the club, a lawyer, maybe ruing the day he opened up his luxurious house to the cameras while bemoaning the lack of cash in the club coffers.

Traditionally Tampines have been a well run club but a change of ownership has seen the new lot struggle to come to terms with football as a business and not a selfie opportunity. For a club in the North East of Malaysia however, mismanagement has become a synonym.

For a couple of years Kelantan were the biggest club in the country. From 2010 to 2013 they won  the Malaysia Super League twice, Malaysia Cup twice and the FA Cup twice. It was a good time to be Kelantanese for sure as the football club took on the established powers of the game, Selangor, and came out triumphant. But nothing lasts for ever, along came JDT with these new fangled ideas like vision, resources, professionalism and all too quickly Kelantan were yesterdays heroes.

After a poor start to the 2016 MSL season Kelantan, under new coach Velizar Popov rallied and finished in a credible fourth place. Well, it sounds respectable but they were 29 points behind the champions JDT and just 10 ahead of bottom lace Terengganu.

The Red Warriors season though was played out againstt a backdrop of an extrovert businesswoman who promised to pump untold riches into the football club, got a seat in the dug out and promised a playing kit that would turn players skin whiter! Surely this was not the dawn of a new era, an era when Kelantan would make headlines for its football off the pitch and not its inability to honour contracts. Surely no one believed that for a moment?

Because it was never going to happen. Over the season club and sponsor bickered about money and hey presto tales came out of Kota Bahru of late payments of salaries. The club's feisty owner, a local politician of course, would come out guns blazing saying it was never his fault and nobody understood the pressures involved without ever once offering to step down and allow professional people to come in and run the club.

well now skin cream lady, the sponsor, has decided she wants to pull the plug and the head honcho is warning the futire may not be plain sailing for the club going forward which I guess is a clue this particular individual doesn't get irony. 'Inshallah we've always pulled through due to our sincerity and honesty in overseeing matters of football in the state of Kelantan,' he said before adding, perhaps ominously for Kelantan fans, 'we will not give up.'

Aussie Jon McKain has just come to end of his two year spell in Kelantan, an experience he describes as 'draining'. 'The management of the club is not very good,' he said in a recent interview with the A League website.

As Kelantan lurch from one disaster to another it is going to be interesting to see who they manage to coax north to get involved next season. Their record of not honouring contracts is bound to count against them, what do you thing footballers talk about, and they may struggle in the 2017 season on the pitch as well which would be a great shame. The fans are among the most passionate in the region and deserve better.

Not every football has royalty, JDT, or a successful company, Muang Thong United, to bankroll them and no one expects that. But there are lessons to be learnt from how those football clubs run themselves, it just needs someone to take a look in the mirror and decide for themselves the problem is much closer to home than they are having us believe.

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