Talent scouts have been a vital part of sports worldwide for years – but not in Malaysia.
Why? We do not have a talent scout system.
Another reason is the unrealistic dream of the guardians of sports in wanting immediate success.
Malaysian sports administrators lament the dearth of talent in the country but do nothing about it.
Instead, football and athletics have recruited foreigners with ancestral ties to Malaysia as well as taken the move to naturalise players.
While talent scouting is important at grassroots, the national and state associations and sports authorities have ignored calls for a talent scout system.
Let us examine the situation in football to elaborate the lack of efforts to tap talent.
Malaysia has resorted to ‘importing’ gifted footballers when no serious effort is being made to comb the length and breadth of the country to spot talent.
We continue to hope for talent to come knocking on the doors of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and state football associations (FAs).
We keep our fingers crossed that a gifted player would be unearthed in the few development programmes such as the National Football Development Programme (NFDP).
But even these programmes, bogged by bureaucracy, are not managed properly.
Additionally, the passage of the talented youngsters to a higher level is stifled by the reluctance of state FAs and the FAM to give them a chance. The presence of ‘imports’ does not help them either.
The truth is there is an abundance of talent waiting to be discovered, nurtured, and led to the right path to achieve excellence.
Unfortunately, it is left untapped because we do not have a football talent scout system.
It is believed that the Ministry of Youth and Sports wants to implement more programmes like the NFDP for other sports to identify talent.
For that to work, the state FAs and clubs should have their own programmes to uncover ‘uncut diamonds’.
Former internationals can play key roles as talent scouts but to date, it has all been lip service from them.
The Ex-State and Ex-Internationals Footballers’ Association headed by Soh Chin Aun should be more proactive.
It should work closely with state FAs and FAM and offer the services of their members as talent scouts.
Asian Football Confederation (AFC) general-secretary, Windsor Paul John, agrees that Malaysia has an abundance of talent but lacks the talent scout culture which he believes is paramount to achieving success.
Former football international, Santokh Singh, is adamant that talent scouts must exist at all levels – national, state, clubs, districts and schools.
Santokh, a member of the ex-internationals’ association, might have hit a brick wall in his efforts to develop a talent scout culture but probably needs to try harder.
Other former football internationals like M. Karathu, K. Rajagopal and V. Kalimutu and former National Coaching Board chairman, Sheikh Kamaruddin Sheikh Ahmad, are in agreement that talent scouting, if handled with care, can help put Malaysian football on the world stage.
Questionable statements by the guardians of football negate efforts to develop local talent.
Former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman came under fire when he suggested that foreign football talent be identified and trained at the NFDP’s Mokhtar Dahari Academy in Gambang in Pahang.
His idea was to naturalise the young foreigners to represent Malaysia in the future.
The comment, which many deemed as silly, came as a blow to local boys under the NFDP.
“What Malaysian football needs is a system to unearth the wide base of talent waiting to be spotted and polished to become gems,” Windsor had said in response to the minister’s statement.
“Talent scouts are part of the game all over the world, but that culture is non-existent in Malaysia,” he added.
Thailand has a talent scout system that has produced players who have propelled football in the country to greater heights.
Malaysia has a population of about 32.4 million and a 2018 survey noted that about 9.4 million were under the age of 18.
Surely, from that under-18 group, we would be able to find at least 1,000 talented football players to be groomed as future stars.
It is pertinent that development programmes are long term and managed professionally without interference.
Equally important are top quality coaches, facilities, healthcare, proper nutrition, and education.
We must not expect a champion tomorrow from today’s effort.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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