IT sounds like a simple equation, FA to FC. But for some of the FAM affiliates, there is apprehension in turning from a football association (FA) into football club (FC).
For them, it is not just about the change in abbreviation but the fear of the consequences.
Perhaps, they don’t have a good understanding of the workings needed to be a modern professional operation for economic sustainability.
For FAM, the goal of transforming their affiliates into FCs is to make them self-reliant — like teaching a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
FAM secretary general Stuart Ramalingam stressed that such a move is essential as Malaysia is one of the last countries in the world to convert their FAs into FCs.
And their affiliates will need to reinvent themselves by this year in order to be eligible for licenses to play in Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) competitions.
“There’s always that debate whether it works or not.
But all around the world, this exercise has been implemented and it’s a two-fold process involving FAM and the Malaysian Football League (MFL),” said Stuart.
“As a licensing body (FAM), we inform the clubs of this modus of change. As they transition into FCs, they participate in MFL’s competitions (as recipients of privatisation from FAs to FCs).
“We will ensure they (MFL) participate and engage in the FA to FC exercise.
“However, this does not mean the FAs will cease to exist but rather they will focus on development of the game, referees and local leagues. They will have different obligations and priorities compared to FCs.
“For example, Selangor FA will still exist while Selangor FC will operate as a Super League team.”
Stuart pointed out that if not for the “FA to FC exercise”, Perak wouldn’t have been able to participate in the recent AFC Champions League play-off.
Turning teams into FCs is the first step towards privatising Malaysian football and creating a vibrant football industry, but FAM are also studying the consequences of this change.
For it could result in corporate investors backing out if their clubs fail to produce good results.
“There are arguments of it being a short-term thing because a club can close down any time.
“It has happened before to clubs such as Felcra, Public Bank, MBPJ and Sime Darby. Felcra were promoted to the Super League and then they closed shop.
“Does that allow clubs to get out of football easier?” he asked.
Another argument would be how will the FAs survive on their own following the conversion?
“We need to protect our affiliates and teach them to survive and provide them with the tools to gain more stability,” said Stuart.
“After we launched the F:30 Roadmap, we launched ACE which is an affiliate support system that allows our affiliates to fill out a form for the programmes they are interested in learning to help the transition.
“As we detach FAs from FCs, FAM will provide support services to ensure the landing is soft for our FAs ,” said Stuart who also gave an example of the situation involving FAM and MFL.
FAM felt the pinch when their biggest asset, the MFL, “separated” from them last year to go fully professional.
The national association have to learn to survive by creating new assets like the launch of last month’s Malaysian Premier Futsal League. By creating their own assets, FAM have a sustainable plan. They are also responsible for the costs in running the national teams (including the men’s and women’s futsal teams) which don’t come cheap.
On the conversion of FAs to FCs, Stuart said: “I’m sure it won’t be like how FAM-MFL have become. It could work as a hybrid at first until they (FAs) are ready for a total detachment.”
FAM hope to see the FCs become privatised entities whereby individuals or corporations could own the clubs which in turn lead to strong sponsorships and healthy revenues.
For investors, buying into an FC is more viable than having to go through political red tape, as has happened in state-run FAs.
Although FCs operate like companies and have to pay taxes, such a set-up could help eradicate issues like non-payment of players’ salaries which has marred the M-League.
“FCs would be stable than FAs because they can get investors and grow the game professionally whereas FAs are too government-linked and may see a change of presidents every four years. So, there is not continuity.
“Because of this ‘short-term’ outlook, some FAs don’t even have their own field, stadium, academy, development centre or youth centre, and they are unable to make long-term investment plans.”
Stuart said a good example of the privatisation of a Malaysian football club would be QI Group’s investment in the PJ City team.
“It’s great to see new money coming in (PJ City team). It would have been easier to take over an established team like Perak who come with their own fan base. But they (QI Group) prefer to build up their own ‘baby ’. This brings in the opportunity for new money to come into football to help the professional game grow,” said Stuart.
And Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) should be an inspiration to others. The Southern Tigers, who are run professionally like a business, have done Malaysia proud by playing at the highest level in the continent - the Asian Champions League. So far, their performances against giants Kashima Antlers of Japan and Gyeongnam FC of South Korea are creditable.
Brazil’s three-time World Player of the Year, Ronaldo also praised JDT’s facilities when he visited them in Johor Bahru last week.
JDT, who have won the Super League title consecutively in the past five seasons, are not only focused on results on the field. They strive for financial sustainability, with the main goal of promoting the JDT brand and venturing into commercial activities like marketing and merchandising.
Football, if played properly in the boardroom, can be a good business. Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and other successful FCs will tell you that.