Wednesday, May 17, 2017


The Challenges Facing Vingada, Rajevac & Milla

I must admit I had to Google Malaysia's new coach Nelo Vingada. Much as I had to search on line for new Thai coach Milovan Rajevac and Indonesia's Luis Milla. It does seem a coincidence that three of the largest footballing countries in South East Asia have plumped for coaches with no experience in the region. After all, how often do we hear the plaintive whine from local football officials a new coach 'must understand the local culture'?

And of course they must. After all it is a local culture that has produced a number of World Cup and AFC Asian Cup winners...oh, wait a minute.

For years and years local clubs and associations have delighted in sending players, coaches and administrators overseas on so called study tours. I guess the idea of these, beyond those so important selfie moments, is to pick up a few ideas about how to do their own jobs in a more professional manner. How useful have these trips been? About as useful as marquee players I may suggest?

Do you think Arsene Wenger worried too much about the culture within the Arsenal when he took over back in 1996? Here was a guy who had never won a major trophy, was French and wore glasses yet he was telling London lads like Ray Parlour, Paul Merson and Tony Adams they had to stop getting pissed all the time and could have no more Mars Bars. That there was no uproar says much about the professionalism of the players and their receptiveness to new ideas they saw could benefit their careers.

Suffice to say had the PSSI, FAM or the FAT appointed Wenger back in 1996 and he had tried to interfere with diet or lifestyle there would have been a revolt and player power would have driven him out within months of his arrival. The precious snowflakes with their years of footballing success know what is needed to be successful within the parameters of their culture and anyone who tries to ignore those cultural obstacles must be shown the door.

Putting facetiousness aside what does it say about local culture when Kiatisuk Senamnuang, who has pretty much earned the right to be the doyen of Thai football, is unable to convert that nation's football culture into one that challenges in Asia? Thailand has some wonderful players, certainly among the best in the region, and two of the best run clubs. Yet a wholly Thai backroom team is unable to convert that template into a team that can go toe to toe with its peers from beyond South East Asia as we have seen in their futile AFC Asian Cup/World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Back to Malaysia. They enjoyed success under Rajagopal when they won the AFF Suzuki Cup back in 2010 but they never looked like taking that success and repeating it against the real Asian powerhouses beyond ASEAN. After 12 years with local coaches the FAM, under new leadership now of course, have sought to think out of the box with a coach who has worked in Portugal, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, South Korea plus plus. When Steve Darby says Vingada ticks the boxes that is good enough for me.

But the challenges ahead for both Vingada, Rajevac and Milla don't only lie in understanding the cloak of local homogeneous culture we keep hearing about; the bigger challenge is interpreting how the clubs and the FAs interpret that culture for their own interests. Not everyone involved in football is involved for football reasons and not all decisions taken are taken for footballing reasons. This backroom pettiness and ego-massaging are two of the biggest impediments to football success in the region and the sooner the new men can understand this the sooner they will realise how hopeless their task is!

Johor Darul Ta'zim and Muang Thong United have shown what a well run football club can achieve in recent seasons. JDT won the AFC Cup back in 2015 and the Thais have done superbly well in this year's AFC Champions League. But they are professional oases amid a desert devoid of ideas or imagination. They are the exception that proves the rule sadly. They are role models, it is to Johore Bahru and Muang Thong that local clubs and associations should be sending their people to learn from, not more glamourous destinations further afield. They have shown how success can be achieved while still appearing to stay true to this local culture we always hear about. Truth be told these two clubs have outgrown such thinking and embraced professionalism but until most clubs in the respective leagues follow their example then no matter who is doing the top job is going to struggle.

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