Malays in football | Criticize if you like, but they’re still ‘MyTeam’

Big-tent party | MyTeam organizers offer a carnival atmosphere, including face painters, clowns, fire eaters, paintball and “bird-of-prey picture taking,” at the first day of tryouts. The tour opened Feb 18 in Johor Baharu. (myteam.bluehyppo.com)

Kuala Lumpur | The “reality show” concept has infilitrated sports in the form of a six-installment vehicle currently airing on ESPN, Knight School, in which 16 basketball players seek the attention of legendary Texas Tech and former Indiana coach Bob Knight. (The player best able to negotiate the fusillade of folding chairs hurled in his direction earns a spot on the Texas Tech roster.)

This fantasy of discovering previously unknown talent—the fuel behind American Idol and a host of schlocky televised talent shows worldwide—has been adapted in Malaysia to football. Producers of MyTeam (short for Malay Team), a planned 12-part production on TV3 Malaysia, believe that their idea of fielding a side of amateur footballers drawn from Malaysia’s 13 states will help reinvigorate a moribund and scandal-tainted domestic game. They hope that the ragtag outfit, following a seven-week training camp, will show well and perhaps defeat the national team on 28 May. According to the teaser,

You will watch as ordinary Malaysians, all with a passion for football[,] will be able to realize their sporting dreams and get the chance to move into the big league. They have to be fit, older than 17 years of age and fast enough to run 100 metres in less than 12 seconds. Plus, if you and your teammates beat Malaysia and impress the coaches and [the Football Association of Malaysia], a place on the national squad could be yours.

The first two episodes (mostly in Malay, partly in English) appear already on the show’s website. In the first installment we review the downward trend affecting Malaysian football and, producers might add, much of Asian football outside China, Japan, the Koreas and Iran. The side is ranked 126th by FIFA—behind Asia confederation mates Hong Kong (115) and Qatar (77), the narrator points out with grave concern—compared to 51st in 1975. MyTeam‘s well-produced debut includes grainy footage of a Malaysia friendly against Arsenal, with the Malaysians ahead 2–0 and scoring a cracking goal off a give-and-go.

To the consternation of some pundits, the football association has sanctioned the search for talent and offered its team as a sparring partner, a potentially embarrassing scenario. Grumbles a columnist in the Malay Mail:

[T]he national body have been getting a lot of flak for allowing their players to be “degraded” in agreeing to take on an amateur team that would have only trained for [seven] weeks in an official match! This, many felt, is Malaysian soccer going to the pits.

He continues by asking what others are wondering: whether a made-for-TV spectacle could have the same effect as a welll-conceived youth-development scheme.

[W]hat about the future? What happens after the programme? Is it a one-off effort or is it going to continue? How much is Malaysian soccer going to benefit from this exercise? Who are going to be the winners in this project? Is it a money-making project? Could the amount of money raised for this project through big sponsors have been more wisely used for long-term development programmes, talent identification projects in kampung [villages] and districts throughout the length and breadth of Malaysia to secure a brighter future for the game? These will be the questions asked by football-loving Malaysians as they are kept entertained by the MyTeam act.

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