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Sunday, September 23, 2012

‘Invest to progress’

New Sabah Times
SMITH … took Sabah to the Malaysian League title for the first time in the team’s history in 1996.
KOTA KINABALU: Football in Malaysia will not go anywhere, not until we realise the importance of having top-notch training facilities. Former Sabah coach Ronald Smith sees this issue as the main stumbling block for football not to progress to its full potential in the country. Smith said more efforts should be made to ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place for sustaining continuous development.

 He added that one could emulate the success story of Japan football on how they started before emerging as a top side on this planet. In an interview with the local press yesterday, Smith could not hide his disappointment with the development of facilities that we have here in Sabah. “I was a bit disappointed yesterday to be honest, I drove around past Likas and they are the same fields and in the same condition, which is poor, just as they were in 1995 when I first came here and that was nearly 20 years ago.

 “The State team still doesn’t have a proper training facility. And that might be the same in Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, I don’t know, but if it is, then really you’d have to say the game hasn’t gone anywhere, it hasn’t progressed at all, which is sad,” said Smith. And Smith was right in stressing the fact, as for instance, the State squad, as its former striker Scott Ollerenshaw described, is just like a gypsy, having to switch training venues almost daily.

 But Smith believes Sabah can still play a huge role to lead development efforts in the country by constructing proper facilities for the team and players. Top clubs in the world, he pointed out have all invested on such infrastructure (gymnasium, recovery facility, swimming pool, spa, sauna, massage) to take better care of their players.

 “This also helps to instill greater football professionalism, which incidentally seems to lack in the country. “I think if the government invests in making these proper facilities for the State team, others I’m sure will follow. “Because what will happen is that all the top players will want to play for Sabah and that will force other States to do the same for their clubs or their teams … then all the football development in the country will be more progressive.

 “The cost to put such infrastructure in place might run into the millions but at least they’re going to be there forever. “The government needs to bite the bullet and build these facilities so that football can progress further. He said unlike Japan and Korea where everybody is serious about football, Malaysia along with most countries in the region is still not exploiting enough resources to allow football to reach its full potential. 

“When I was at FAM from 1999-2002 I went to Japan with a group of coaches along with Tengku Mahkota. “We visited three clubs in 1999. We found out that before you could be a club in the J-League you must have a stadium to play the competition, a dedicated training facility, two grass fields and one synthetic pitch, otherwise you could not join the league.

 Smith, who led the state team to the Premier League championship in 1996, is here with his wife. He is one of the special guests for the Borneo Football League dinner on invitation by his former top striker Scott Ollerenshaw. To a question on whether he is willing to guide the State team if given the opportunity, Smith said he would turn it down, adding that he has had enough dealing with teams, and that he is now focusing on other aspects of the sport.

 However, he said his love for Sabah has not changed and that he will also come back whenever there is an opportunity. “I love it here in Sabah … the people are very friendly and even now it hasn’t changed,” said Smith, who currently works as a technical analyst for the Australian national team. Glancing at his background, Smith worked as the assistant coach of football programme at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra from 1982-1986, and then as head coach from 1986-1995.

 During this period he mentored the golden generation of players who played for the Socceroos or professionally overseas, including Ned Zelic, Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, John Aloisi, Craig Moore, Lucas Neil and Brett Emerton. Smith coached the Sabah team in 1995 and in 1996 took Sabah to the Malaysian League title for the first time in the team’s history and reached the Malaysia Cup final, losing to Selangor in a penalty shootout in front of 82,000 spectators.

 He coached Johor FC in 1998 and 1999 laying the foundation for the first club team ever to be promoted to the M-League in 2000 before serving as Technical Director to the Football Association of Malaysia between 1999 and 2002 and established the Bukit Jalil development programme based on the Australian Institute of Sport model.

 After the World Cup 2006, where he assisted Gus Hiddink as analyst, Smith resigned as full-time technical manager with FIFA to take on the role as head coach at Perth Glory FC. From January 2008 Smith was assistant to Graham Arnold with the Olympic team through to the finals in Beijing in August that year and worked as the technical analyst for Pim Ver Beek in the qualification and World Cup finals in South Africa in June 2010.

 Smith continues his role as technical analyst to the Socceroos and Olympic team for the current campaign. Recently, he developed an iPhone application for coaches. His creation has been selling like hot cakes and will be officially launched later this year. For more information on his coaching software visit www. footballcentre.com.au.

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