The latest New Sunday Times January 3rd, in page 69 carried a full page article titled: "Study history before getting foreign help". The writer is Poon Fook Loke, a renowned national player who was part of the legendary 1975 Malaysian hockey team. Fook Loke is a courageous person to dictate the history of foreign help to Malaysian hockey and in his usual style has provided an analysis.
Before i get into Fook Loke's version of history, i must state that "history" can also be termed as "his" story ie. the person who tells the story. In the case of the article, i am of the opinion that it is more "his" story as opposed to history because some of the underlying issues do not correspond to what were the prevailing issues at hand.
I do not want to go to 1954 or 1966 or 1968 or even 1970, rather let me stick to the issues of more modern times i e 1990s and onwards. Before we get to the 1990s, in the 80s Malaysia had missed the 1986 World Cup and 1988 Olympics. This obviously became a concern for the administrators in MHF which was exacerbated by the failure to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. It became inevitable that MHF had to secure the services of a full time foreign coach. He was no other than Terry Walsh, who did a great job taking Malaysia to the 1992 Olympics. The point here being the mandate was to QUALIFY FIRST. This, i believe, Terry did deliver and inadvertently Fook Loke omitted this aspect. As to what happened at the Olympics in 1992, again the question to ask, "Was there a contractual target"? My believe is that MHF's pre-occupation and target was to qualify. Notwithstanding that Malaysia came out 9th at the Olympics and this has been Malaysia's highest achievement in any Olympics till today.
As Terry was endeavouring to achieve the desired impact for the national team , their unfortunate failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup saw forces at work to dismantle his services. They were successful but in his place came the Volker Knapp and Lissek combination. Lissek came as a Consultant and his "student" Knapp was the full time coach. Malaysia made it to 1996 Olympics and the 1998 World Cup. For the 1998 Commonwealth Games we became runners-up. Again the point being the mandate to Qualify for Olympics and World Cup was fulfilled. So effectively the decade of 90 with foreign coaches in the Malaysian hockey arena saw us fulfill our mandate of qualifying for 2 Olympics and 1 World Cup.
Then the 2000 Olympics saw the combination of Lissek as Consultant and local lad Stephen Van Huizen. Again the mandate to qualify was fulfilled. Fortunately for 2002 World Cup,
Malaysia as host we did not have to go through the rigorous qualifying process. Malaysia performed well on home ground in the 2002 World Cup. The coach here was Lissek and Stephen was his assistant.
By now Lissek had overstayed his presence as coach and we failed to qualify for the 2004 Olympics. Lisseks tactics and style had become an "open book" and opposing coaches knew his modus operandi like the "back of their palms". He wanting his players to adopt a robotic style, a defensive approach to the game plus only focusing attack from the right flank and to score majority of the goals through short corners became predictable. This literally killed the natural flair of our players. Above all the players became very "mechanical" and lost the ability to become thinking players. The point being neither the people in MHF nor NSC were far sighted enough to see this. Time and time again, although we had local coaches in charge, due to the sheer experience Lissek had, even though his ideas were about 8 years behind time, he was still used as consultant. This meant that we were still adopting strategy and tactics that cannot cope in modern hockey
This meant we failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup and thereafter for the 2008 Olympics. The local coaches were a product of Lissek, who by now has became very "local". Modern hockey is in a "dynamic" progression but Malaysian hockey has remained "stagnant" because our coaches did not have the ability to keep breast with the developments that were taking place. So generations of our players over the last 8 years could not compete in the modern day hockey.
The trend would have been "checked" by Beng Hai and Saiful but unfortunately they were riddled with enough problems that were swept under the carpet by team management and certain officials. Beng Hai and Saiful tried hard to change the embedded "Lissek " style in their game approach but the "layers" were too thick and it was not a easy task. Even without a consultant these 2 local coaches took the team to the finals of the qualifiers and the team "cracked" in the last 13 minutes. I believe they did a good job. However, can our local coaches stand shoulder to shoulder with the top 5 to 8 coaches in the world and hold detailed technical discussions?
It is managing the various "sciences" whether it is sports, medical, nutritional. bio-mechanical, psychology or so forth that is becoming the key ingredients in modern hockey. This can only be measured by qualification and "success profile". We can "argue till the cows come home" but this is where are local coaches suffer. Major part of the reason is that the "establishment" had not created nor demanded the environment of "excellence" and therefore such things do not come naturally. The deeper aspect is that the decision makers themselves have not adopted the principles of excellence and as such they cannot demand such standards from others So everything ends up like a "curry masak" approach.
The other point that Fook Loke raised was the lack of development work that previous foreign coaches failed to undertake. I am in agreement except that i ask Fook Loke to check whether the terms of their employment covered that scope. If it was so and the foreign coaches had not done their bit, i think the fault here also lies with MHF and NSC. However my understanding is that the foreign coaches were employed for the national teams.
Therefore i believe that Fook Loke had painted a picture without really realising what was the original mandate of the foreign coaches. Unless Malaysia qualifies, we cannot write a story of the failure to be ranked high in a tournament in which we may not even participate. So Fook Loke, the pre-occupation was to qualify because of our history of failing to qualify and the foreign coaches were secured to do just that.