Malaysia's shrinking league weakens national team - Former Selangor manager

Reduced MFL teams lead to fewer matches, hurting player development.

29 May 2024 09:46am
Zack Rahim.
Zack Rahim.

SHAH ALAM - The Malaysian Football League (MFL) has undergone a significant transformation, reducing its number of teams from 20 to 13, impacting both the league and the national team.

This drastic change has reverberated throughout the league and beyond, affecting not only the dynamics of the competition but also the composition and performance of the national team.

Former Selangor manager and local football observer Zakaria Rahim, better known as Zack Rahim, stressed that this matter affects the Malaysian football team, Harimau Malaya.

“During the eras of Mokhtar Dahari, Soh Chin Ann, and Santokh Singh, every national player also played for their state clubs, such as Selangor and Kelantan.

"They had numerous tournaments, competitions, and matches, keeping them busy almost every week.

"Although the Malaysian Cup had only five teams, the players still played plenty of matches.

“Today, players are only with one team, and with just 13 teams in the MFL, they play only 24 games a season.

"For international-level foreign players, they need to play at least 40 games a year.

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"With just 24 games, our players fall short by 16 matches. The league is shrinking because many teams cannot afford to compete financially,” he said during Sinar Daily's Sports Matters podcast aired recently.

Zack mentioned that this issue is partly due to the lack of substantial rewards.

“In English football, every team receives TV rights payments, with incentives based on their league position.

"The higher they rank, the more they earn, creating fierce competition.

"In Malaysia, however, the TV rights situation is unclear, and the financial transparency of teams is lacking.

“To address this, the governing body of the Malaysian League must implement rules.

"Whether there is a spending cap or not, transparency is crucial.

"Teams should declare their spending, ensuring fairness and allowing the league to expand with financially sustainable teams.

“Establishing spending limits could help ensure that all teams operate within their means, fostering a more competitive and robust league.

"It is better than nothing,” he added.

Zack also emphasised that he is fine with the MFL allowing all teams to have nine foreign players.

“However, for teams with limited budgets, this can be problematic. How can they compete if they can only afford three foreign players while other teams have nine?

“This is why the governing body must implement regulations regarding the acquisition of these players and provide incentives to financially struggling teams.

"Without addressing this issue, our league may shrink further next season, possibly down to 10 or 12 teams.

“Before the league started, how many teams received warnings from the MFL for not paying their players' salaries?

"These teams have struggled to find funds to settle last year’s dues, and once they declare the payments made, they are allowed back in the league. But what about the upcoming year?” he questioned.

Zack said that some teams even take out loans to manage their finances.

“They have signed contracts with some foreign players, with the MFL allowing a maximum of nine.

"They must cover salaries, accommodation, taxes, and flight tickets. Players are going to make their demands.

“That is just for the foreign players. What about the local players? Are we going to prioritise the foreign players’ salaries so they do not file a complaint to FIFA?

“Are we going to prioritise foreign players and neglect our own? Like the Malay saying, ‘anak kera di hutan disusui, anak sendiri di rumah kebuluran’. How far do we want this issue to go in our local league?” he added.