Saturday, February 28, 2009

No shit no-frills airline

Is this taking no-frills flying too far? Will this create a new kind of air-borne holding pattern formation?

The head of budget European airline Ryanair unleashed a flood of indignation and potty humor Friday when he suggested that future passengers might be obliged to insert a British pound coin for access to the lavatory to get some in-flight relief.

Airline chief Michael O'Leary suggested that installing pay toilets would lower ticket costs and make flying, somehow, easier for all.

Not even his own aides seemed to be sure if he was serious or pursuing his penchant for making brazen declarations to get free publicity for Ryanair.

Read here for more

KJ on crappy state of Malaysian football

It is interesting to read Khairy Jamaluddin's views in Malaysiakini on the bad state of Malaysian football. KJ is the deputy president of FAM. So, his views obviously carry more weight than that of a blogger.

That his views on the abject absence of grassroots football development in Malaysia are consistent with the issues raised in my earlier post entitled, A Malaysian football academy idea that never was, gives me some encouragement.

In the Malaysiakini's report, Khairy: Own goals keep local football down, KJ suggests a drastic measure of suspending the local football league for a whole year in order to revamp it. from here.

This part of the report was resonant and interesting:

Khairy also listed five reasons for the abysmal standard of Malaysian football today - lack of money, no grassroots structure to pool young players from, no professional coaches, the scourge of corruption among players and losing supporters to the European leagues.

"Football today suffers from a lack of money. We have lost the tobacco sponsorship. So most of the money that we get is spent on the league and all the national teams, both of which are crap," he admitted.

It must be noted that about RM300 million was pumped into the FAM from 1997-2005 by then sponsor Dunhill. This funding has now dried up and the FAM is seeking fresh aid from the government to revitalise the local football scene.

The cash-flow problem is also a reason why local teams have been barred by the FAM from hiring foreign players.

khairy jamaluddin interview 230209 07Many teams have struggled to pay the wages of these foreign players, leaving them unpaid or worse still, having their contracts terminated without proper reasons.

Supporters and football pundits have argued that the presence of these foreign players would have added glamour to the league - like how it has done for the Japanese league.

The other view - which eventually won the day - was that the presence of foreign players would hamper the growth of local talent.

Several local teams too have been guilty of hiring questionable foreign players who are eventually let off due to their sub-playing standards.

Khairy, however, felt that it was not just the presence of foreign players that was hampering the growth of the local talent.

He blames that squarely on a lack of opportunities for young local talents to be spotted.

"We don't have a grassroots structure anymore. There are no more (new) state-run academies or any local leagues for new talents to come up and be identified," he said.

If you have read my earlier post as referenced above, you will find that I quite agree with KJ on this.

But, as always, will the deputy president of FAM be able to engender positive change for local football?

Funding is not really an issue. Football is an important sport (if the local councils stop taking bribes from developers to destroy all the precious public padang bola in the suburbs).

Besides, I have a few ideas of how to organise the funding model and grassroots football development programmes. But, let's see what the deputy president of FAM comes up with in the aftermath of MyTeam.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A continuing toll on BN strategy

It looks as though the piece entitled A toll on BN strategy fell on deaf ears judging by the unfortunate decision to raise toll rates again. 

It does not matter that there are concession agreements. BN is the government and BN is expected to be dealing with public interest first and foremost. Instead, BN are now perceived as favouring rent-seeking behaviour over the public interest.

It would appear that some of the nationalisation of toll roads strategies, especially the funding model, posted in this blog under The Malaysian problem with the privatisation of public goods and An economic agenda to consider appears to have gained traction but, unfortunately, not with the government.

GLCs (Sime included)

The guys running Government-linked Companies (GLCs) appear very much to be on the defensive these days. The blogosphere hasn't been very charitable to them. The GLC guys are understandably testy.

The litany of controversies involving corporate misadventures,whether past, present or prospective, that explodes into cyberspace involving GLCs is a long one. Too many for me to catalogue.

Spin control
One immediate response is to retain the services of Public Relations people. Giving issues that explode into public opprobrium a positive spin is a natural response. Like anyone, GLCs are entitled to space to ventilate their version of events.

To build better public perception, non-profit projects can be highlighted in the public domain. This is part and parcel of brand-building. No problems there either.

amanah is trust
To take Anifah Aman's point (from the preceding post) a little further, the guys (or gals) running GLCs are often seen to have forgotten that thay are in the position of a trustee. The fiduciary relationship, they seem to ignore, extends not just to PNB, Khazanah Nasional, LTAT, LUTH and similar institutional funds.

That fiduciary relationship, whether they like it or not, extends to the general Malaysian public.

Like it or not, that is how we, the public, perceive the acts or omissions of the GLCs when they plan (or plot) corporate adventures (or misadventures).

Like it or not, they are held to a far higher standard than that attached to ordinary corporations.

GLCs are, correctly (if I may say) perceived by ordinary Malaysians, as extensions of the government. That is usually interpreted to mean that GLCs will get projects that ordinary corporations will never get.

By virtue of that, the public perception is also that GLCs are quite obviously prone to abuse by the management who are ordained (I use this word deliberately) to run these humongous corporations.

That is why integrity should be at a premium for GLCs. It's not about hotshot academic qualifications. It's not about grand experiences. It certainly isn't about savvy public relations. It is, instead, all about integrity and the absolute absence of even a wafting whiff of any hanky-panky.

Spinning won't help dodgy deals
Let the the message to GLCs be crystal clear. No amount of spin control or public relations can help projects that are seen to be questionable.

The public interest must be protected at all times. Even a hint of crass profiteering will not do. That is the high standard GLCs are held to. That is why the IJN proposal was still-born. The public, correctly, doesn't want some over-zealous cashier in the Emergency Ward to turn away a patient that had no ready cash or credit card. No amount of assurance will guarantee that such a thing won't happen in a privatised hospital. But, everyone knows that such a thing won't ever happen in a public hospital.

All deals must not only be feasible and viable. There must be no whiff of a hint that any asset or business to be acquired or sold involves a party who is even remotely linked to anyone involved in the decision.

It's not just me dishing out baseless pontifications. Just pick up the Bursa Malaysia Listing Rules, it says the same thing not just to GLCs but all public-listed companies.

And, as I keep saying, the standards of scrupulousness should be even higher for GLCs.

That is why GLC managers must realise that their positions are NOT appointive or contractual. Their positions are ordained. And, with such ordination comes a responsibility of being a TRUSTEE of the ordinary Malaysian public who are the ultimate stakeholders.

Understand what that means and you will have a decent career.

BN’s Anifah blames greenhorns for losses in Tenaga, Telekom

I must say that Anifah Aman has made an interesting point about the need for experienced corporate managers to manage GLCs.

Anifah is quoted as having said:

“In recent times, the government has been keen to appoint young professionals in their 30s and early 40s who project the image of ‘financial experts’ simply because they are qualified accountants from prestigious universities.

“Most of them do not have business acumen but only degrees from renowned universities.

“GLCs should not be led just by those with academic qualifications but those with the experience and knowhow to navigate through the economic crisis."

Singling out Tenaga Nasional, he pointed out to consecutive quarterly losses of RM282.9 million and RM944 million reported last year and slammed the selection of its chief executive officer Datuk Seri Che Khalib Mohamad Noh as the New Straits Times CEO of the Year for 2008.

“I cannot understand on what basis or criteria this selection was made,” he said.

He also criticised Telekom Malaysia who once monopolised the telecommunications industry but was now lagging behind its competitors Maxis and Digi.

MPs like Anifah Aman, who takes a no holds barred approach to certain peeves, makes UMNO-BN look good.

But, as with all things, what are the actions that can and, will be taken after exhortations like these are made by BN backbenchers? from here.

A stony silence usually ensues coupled with selective amnesia.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stimulus, risk and innovation

Apart from those businesses that will land the plum infrastructure construction jobs under the second economic stimulus package that seems to be taking forever to be announced (now it's March 10), the rest of Malaysian businesses must make some crucial decisions. The stimulus package is not the Panadol or Aspirin that will cure financial and business headaches.

It is still left to businesses to decide whether to innovate. It is still left to the towkays to decide their risk appetite. All these will still be present even after the stimulus package is announced.

Here are some pertinent points:

The challenge to innovate
Businesses tend to produce much more rhetoric about innovation than innovation itself. Why? We all agree innovation is a good and necessary thing, so why don't we do more of it? 

One important reason is that innovation is a collective activity. It depends on how the people around us define bold and acceptable as opposed to reckless and stupid. 

It takes very unusual independence to ignore the prevailing view.

Times of crisis make such challenges especially difficult. Even though we understand perfectly well that we need to be nimble, fear can lead us to suicidal levels of risk aversion and inflexibility. That's dangerous, but it's also understandable. The status quo can be very seductive when the marketplace is in chaos.

Encouraging calculated risk-taking
As the management authority E. H. Schein puts it, leaders communicate their priorities through what they choose to measure, comment on, praise and criticize. This is crucial, for employees tend to focus on what they know to be the senior team's priorities. And if it's true that a clearly understood culture directs employees and imbues them with confidence, it is truer still in a crisis, when expediency can play havoc with corporate visions and values.

How can we instill a culture that makes everyone wisely embrace risk and figure out new ways to build revenues? 

Here are three suggestions: 

(1) Ensure employees see unanimity across the senior team about the firm's priorities.

(2) Encourage mistakes. "If you fail, try again. Fail again. Fail better," said the playwright Samuel Beckett (we can learn a lot from the creative process).

(3) Make teamwork and collaboration desirable. Complex problems require collaborative solutions. Where leaders fail to persuade their people to collaborate, ambiguity and competitiveness rush to fill the vacuum.

Microfinance: Mohammad Yunus and Grameen Bank
In 1976 a young academic named Mohammad Yunus lent $27 to 42 businesswomen in a Bangladeshi village. They had good ideas, but banks considered them too risky to lend even small amounts to. 

Yunus wanted to help them avoid the moneylenders whose rates were eating up their profits. His tiny initiative grew until it became Grameen Bank, which has now lent $5 billion to 5 million people. 

Some 70% of Grameen's borrowers also save there. It makes profits and pays dividends. And its credit rating is the envy of many First World banks. In 2006 Professor Yunus and the bank jointly earned the Nobel Peace Prize for economic and social development.

Opportunities are there, if we dare to see it
Nobody dares trivialize the present financial crisis, which daily claims more victims. But we can still choose whether or not to see opportunity.

A big first step is to look at how we see risk and to foster an organizational culture in which both the bosses and employees look at risk honestly and take it when it makes sense.

(This post is loosely based on Kevin Kelly's piece in Forbes.

I agree with this

What he has written is lucid, articulate and well-reasoned.

No one can refute the point.

At least, no one with a reasonable disposition.

Read Zainul Arifin's NST op-ed piece entitled, Every language has a role to play.

Everything is there. I enjoyed reading it. And, I agree with it.

Our cultural and ethnic identities are embedded in our genetic make-up already. Our ability to compete globally, on the other hand, is not encoded in our DNA. The process of getting there requires a medium of communication. And, what that medium of communication is - Well, that is what Zainul Arifin articulated so well in the op-ed piece. Please read it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Maybank and Air Asia: When giants need cash

When a giant bank like Maybank needs to raise RM5 billion to RM6 billion, we need to ask why? Why conduct sexy corporate exercises that you obviously cannot afford?

I do not ask this question for fun.

I am a depositor.

I have the standing to ask.

I want a bank that is solid and safe in which to put my money.

I don't care that your shareholders and managers want to "sex up" the bank.

I don't care that you have insecurities about market share or expansion or dominance.

I really don't care that you have international plans. from here.

Just don't blow the bank chasing some hare-brained nonsense strategy that results in the bank having funding problems.

That is not the Maybank I grew up with.

Air Asia
When a no-frills airline borrows RM2.5 billion to buy 15 new aircraft and, needs RM13 billion more to buy 104 aircraft by 2014, I begin to wonder.

Is it to expand their footprint?

Is it to gain market share?

Is it to provide better service than the cattle-class that they champion?

Does it mean they are doing well?

Does it mean they are doing even better than ever?

Or, does it mean that they have found a way to "sex up" their cashflow via sexy and complicated musical kama sutra-type financing structures? from here.

But, what do I know?

Microcredit: A different kind of Slumdog Millionaire

While it is heartening that there is growing traction to add a larger component to microcredit (aka microfinance) in the economic stimulus package it is important to be vigilant to instances of abuse.

This blog has been championing an increased focus on microcredit for some time now. Previous posts are labelled as microfinance.

I presume that the new attention being paid to microfinance by the government is intended to meet the challenge of unemployment. Unemployment is a spectre that arises largely due to the imploding export demand, particularly in the electrical and electronics (E&E) sector which affects, not just the large multi-national FDIs but, also the SMEs that provide ancillary goods and services.

Policy makers must be alert to the implementation process.

Remember the roots of microfinance
If you care to read my earlier postings on this subject you will find that the success of microfinance has its roots in community self-help. The operative word is community. I emphasise again, community.

The reason for the low default rate for microfinance is that the community will rally around weaker borrowers and find a solution. This internalises challenges faced by borrowers. It makes the problem personal and communal. Again, it makes the default challenge both personal and communal.

A delinquent microfinance borrower will be socially ostracised if the money is abused by being re-directed, say, from a market gardening project to a high-risk keretek trading scam.

A less personal delivery system than the original model
In delivering the allocations for microfinance, it is likely that conventional commercial banks will be used in addition to bodies like Amanah Ikhtiar Malaysia(AIM).

Let's be brutally honest. Banks will not find microfinance profitable. The amount of time spent on a microfinance loan will be similar to a large housing loan. So, they will quietly shoo-away the moms-and-pops, pakciks and makciks. Besides, banks are intimidating.

Having said that, Agro Bank and Bank Rakyat probably have the correct temperament to deliver microfinance at the level that is truly effective.

Reaching out to the correct target sector
Beyond AIM, Agro Bank and Bank Rakyat, the local village heads and ketua kampung must be conscripted to organise small talks by officers and representatves of these microfinance bodies so that farmers and small business operators understand all the key features of microfinance. This process of links back to the idea of community upon which the principles of microfinance are founded.

Who to be careful of
The segment that microfinance bodies must be extra vigilant about are the individuals who may have become recently unemployed and, those who are in financial difficulties from bad spending habits. These are the people who are looking to scam the microfinance bodies.

These are the people who cook up business schemes for the sole purpose of landing RM10,000-00 to pay off their debts. These people have no genuine interest in starting a business. Their heart is not in it. These are the people who will contribute to the default rate for microfinance. They will give genuine borrowers a bad name.

That is why some form of introduction is necessary. Mere written proposals and business plans are not good enough. The microfinance bodies must have a procedure where applicants must be introduced by existing borrowers with good track records, the village head or ketua kampung, or someone of standing.

And, the geographic location of the business is also a key. Microfinance drives neighbourhood businesses. If the applicant is a stranger to the locality, chances are the applicant does not know the customer base and, has no qualms about defaulting since there will be no social stigma attached.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Original Mad Man

Kenneth Roman, former chairman and CEO of the international advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, has just come out with a book on the legendary David Ogilvy.

As a big fan of advertising (don't know why. Maybe it's the razzmatazz that goes with ads), I have "known" David Ogilvy for many years through books and articles.

The advertising industry is fascinating as it is controversial.
It is fascinating for the way in which it influences our decisions on what to consume. It subliminally taps into our need to stand out in a crowd; our so-called "snob appeal".

It is controversial in its ability to get into our minds and accentuate our prejudices; our innate need to conspicuously consume.

In this time of economic challenges the ad industry is hard-pressed to influence the decisions at the mass retail level.

Ad expenditures make goods and services more costly. But, reduce ad expenditures and your brand runs the risk of becoming invisible.

But, think about it, if your goods and services have a high quality, shouldn't you retain customer loyalty even absent advertising?

And, if the ad industry encourages jazzed-up packaging, aren't they contributing to environmental degradation since packaging is the stuff we throw away after exercising the impulse to buy?

So many questions to ponder over.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Paving the correct way

One of my pet peeves is the state of sidewalks in Malaysia. I have often wondered why local councils in Malaysia made some magical quantum leap some time in the 1970s from having asphalt sidewalks to the ridiculous pavement stones.

Pavement stones are ridiculous in when used in Malaysia. Firstly, the foundation or underlay of Malaysian sidewalks is of dubious design. More likely, the sub-sub-sub-contractors that construct the sidewalks have cheated on the specifications.
Second, (related to the first point) the pavement stones are laid on a thin layer of sand. Maybe there's a slight layer of concrete. But, it's basically a layer of sand.

The whole unwieldy sidewalk starts to buckle after several thunderstorms. Obviously that loose layer of sand shifts and gets silted away by the torrential water run-off during a storm. What is left are pavement stones that either stick out in odd places ready to trip the pedestrian over or, sunken into a dangerous depression, waiting to break the pedestrian's neck.

I can't even imagine how Malaysian women wearing high-heels can stay upright walking on buckly Malaysian sidewalks.

Nice to look at, but horrible to maintain
And, as we know, Malaysia is very good at constructing things. But we are crap at maintenance.

Why are Malaysian local councils so fond of pavement stones? Is there a scam involving manufacturers of stone pavers?

Concrete pavements
In more advanced countries, concrete pavements are used. The specifications are actually in place. I looked it up. The Jabatan Kerja Raya (Public Works Department) has a set of Guidelines to the Design of Plain Concrete Pavement. Picture from here.

So, it is not as if I am suggesting anything radical. Diagram from here.
The local councils should look into using poured concrete or concrete slabs as the material of choice for constructing sidewalks instead of pavement stones...unless there's a scam that persuades them to prefer pavement stones over concrete pavements.

A Malaysian Football Academy idea that never was

I read Sakmongkol's latest post on the theft of an idea with a huge dose of wistfulness. My friends and I have had similar experiences. You find someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows a politician in government who can sanction an idea that you have. And then, you are asked to provide the working papers and studies that you've spent your own time and considerable resources to prepare.

Then, there's a long silence. All follow up calls and meetings are met with various responses that the papers have been delivered. Just wait. Next meeting. Will catch the politician at some kenduri, some visit to some kawasan and, so on.

And, then, the shock of reading a major announcement about your idea but with a different set of people.

I'm posting something non-commercial that my friends and I proposed some four years ago, for the betterment of a sport that I have loved forever; football. I was so fed-up by the whole nonsense that I have never bothered to find out if it had been copied by people with better technical know-who. All I know is that the state of Malaysian football remains moribund.

Here is part of the proposal. It remains my copyright (for all that it's worth). Football fans should read it because, if nothing, it improves your appreciation of a wonderful sport:


The concept of the Malaysian Football Academy ("MFA") is to provide an additional avenue for the development of football playing and coaching talent in Malaysia. By so doing, MFA’s goal is to create a sizeable pool of players for the national team, state teams and football clubs throughout Malaysia. The focus will be youth football skills development.

We have seen Japan and Korea develop football talents from the 1980s to become semi-finalists in the FIFA World Championships in 2002. MFA hopes to be able to participate in bringing positive changes to the Malaysian football scene by giving technical and skills training to playing and coaching talent in Malaysia’s most popular sport.

Financial Highlights

Estimated annual allocation

by Sports Development Fund : RM20 million

Outline of the function of the MFA Technical Director and Structure of Coaching

Its is proposed that the Technical Director of the Malaysian Football Academy [MFA] have at least 15 national staff coaches directly under him. Former national and professional players with Physical Education degrees would be preferred. This support group works with the Technical Director in selecting and preparing candidates for training at the MFA. Below this core group will be accredited MFA coaches throughout the country working directly under these staff coaches at various levels.

It is planned hat twice a year these coaches come together at the MFA National Training Center, to ensure they are all working on the same page and are all following the technical guidelines set down by the MFA. Together they will plan the technical outline for each following year, implementing a new plan every four years for all the professional level clubs.

During this time four levels are stressed:

  1. The Coaching Schools – This is the key to football development in Malaysia. Every player that will go through the Malaysian system must be coached by educators certified by MFA coaching schools. This ensures continuity in technical and tactical development. In order to obtain a professional license and therefore become a professional coach, an individual must coach or study in a foreign country with a club and write a research paper.

  1. The National Youth Identification Program – Here guidelines are developed for the scouting of players for the U16, U17 and U18 national teams. Each team has three fulltime coaches, a trainer and a doctor.

  1. Youth Soccer Curriculums – Coaching for the 6-11 year olds revolves around having fun with soccer. At age 12-16 it is more focused and the emphasis is on technique and learning how to be a professional player. Players here train two hours daily on the techniques necessary at the top level.

An educator who specializes in youth soccer coaches each of these players. MFA’s target is to ensure that all youth coaches are properly trained and certified. The best players from this group will become professional players, as the clubs know about the top players at age ten.

Outline of Proposed Football Youth Development Program

This is an outline of the development program for the players between 13-20 years old in Malaysia modeled on the lines of the French Football Federation Youth Programme centred in Clairefontaine, France.

Players are identified at age 11 through districts and then regional teams.

The best 20-30 players at age 13 will be selected go to the national training center to be established by MFA in Kuala Lumpur.

At this center and the other six centers, the players are educated with these concepts in mind:

  • To forget what is at stake
  • That results only come from the game
  • To respect the principles of playing soccer and play within the structure the coach gives you
  • Victory is the only goal
  • The first consideration is to be present (to become an impact player) in the game, to free the youth trainee from his opponent, and to ask for the ball

The Coach

The most important person in soccer is the coach. Coaches at this level must be researchers into the game as well as trainers. The MWSF must have the ability to train all of these coaches.

Training Issues

When the coach is preparing his training sessions, the emphasis should be on technical ability, and his own convictions and conception of what soccer should look like. He must take into account the age of the players and the proper objectives linked to that age. He must be precise and professional. Every coach has access to many soccer exercises but has to know the proper way to proceed and to present them. The advice given to each player is very important. The coach must be careful of his language in order to help the players understand his methods. No yelling is tolerated. Objectives and issues in training are clear to the players. The players have the best training conditions and train one time daily, five days a week.

The priorities for the players are:

  • To become a professional player with the maximum chance of succeeding (this includes the four factors of soccer)
  • Keep up with their studies so they can have a career in case soccer does not work out

The priorities for the coaches are:

  • The methods in which they work. Malaysia will be one of the few Asian countries to have a youth coaching license required
  • To develop a highly qualified technical staff, all licensed and well trained

In the training sessions emphasis is given to repeating the quality of soccer movements. These are corrected and repeated until they become a regular part of the player’s package of skills. The coaches must be quality demonstrators.

The coaches will then work on:

  • Making the player’s movements faster and better
  • Linking movements efficiently and wisely. Coaches constantly ask the player why they use a certain move in a certain situation
  • Using the weakest foot. Coaches will develop specific sessions to work on weaknesses in the player’s game
  • Technical exercises with high reoccurrences
  • Games with the possibility of many choices and reflections
  • Simple tactical exercises forcing the player to make a quick decision
  • Realistic activities which make the player feel as if he were in a real game

“All the big time players keep the game simple”. An example of this would be not dribbling (unless going to goal) instead of making a 30-yard pass (as this slows the game down).

Sir Bobby Charlton was quoted as saying at the Post-to-Post International Training Center that, “Soccer is a simple game made difficult by the players”.

Johan Cruyff, while at Barcelona, stated that the coach who gave his player more than two options does not understand the game of soccer.

Training therefore is done with this context in mind:

  • Quantity
  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Demands of the game
  • Simplicity

The Selection of Top Level Players

  • They must have exceptional technique
  • They must have intelligence on the field
  • They must have a high work rate on the field
  • They must have a good school record
  • They must pass their medical tests
  • They must pass their physical tests

The Weekly Schedule (club)

  • U13 – Participate in two to three training periods and one match
  • 13-15 years – Participate in four to five training periods and one match with a minimum of 35 matches a year

The Weekly Schedule (pros)

  • 16– 17 years – Five to seven trainings with one match, 40 matches per year and four to five weeks without any training at all
  • 17-20 years – Seven to nine trainings, one match, with many competitions against older players

Training Priorities

Age 13:

  • The range of the players abilities (age specific)
  • The choices the player makes. Every player plays with the ball for the first fifteen minutes of training. The player decides what to do with the ball. This starts to personalize his game.
  • The game. This is the most important part, in training or actual competition

Age 14:

  • The range
  • The situation. Here the coach decides on the activities to bring out the individual’s technique
  • The choice
  • The game

Age 15:

  • The situation. The coach plans everything.
  • The efficiency
  • The competition (lots of opposition)

At this stage of development the players must be working two hours a day on technical skills.

The MFA will look at three aspects of maintaining the balance in their young player’s lives. First is insuring that players are able to maintain a normal study program in case their intended professional career does not work. The family and original club are very important. The player returns to his club each week to play matches. He is expected to become a leader on and off the field. The soccer aspect has been discussed above. The training environment for these young players must have top class facilities not only on the field but also in the classroom.

Psychological Factors

The players will undergo a sports personality test. These are 120 question tests that give the players situations that they have to solve, dealing with family matters, peer pressure, etc. The players who scored the highest are all currently professional players. All the training centers employ consultants to work with the players. In certain situations outside experts may be brought in. The clubs pay strict attention to the special needs that may be associated with being a minority.

Medical Factors

Players will undergo extensive medical testing. These include test on the treadmill, cybex machines, skin fold thickness (body fat), height and weight, vision, dental, and suppleness. The MFA will follow selected players for two years in the areas of sight and dental to minimise the risk of injuries.

During this time period, the body is going through tremendous changes. Muscular education is vital at this time. Pre-puberty growth will start for girls at age 8-9 and puberty growth will finish at 12-13 years. For boys it will begin at age 11 and end at age 15. There will be an overall increase in the strength of the legs and the trunk. Hormonal levels and activity will also increase as will cartilage growth.

Exercises at this age must include spinal column mobility.

Abdominal work is becoming vital and including the central and oblique muscles. The central pelvic area must be developed.

Proprioceptive work must be used to reduce the number of strain in the lower body. This will include the use of balance boards. Plyometrictcs are important through the use of low obstacles (cones) and high obstacles (hurdles). Education concerning stretching is vital.

Physical Tests

All tests are taken on the soccer field. The players run through a battery of speed detector tests over 40 meters with sensors every 5 yards. This begins at age 11. The Swedish Beep Test is used frequently. Springing and bounding is tested via the Italian formulated Bosco Test. Another Swedish test originated by Lager-Boucher is run over 200 meters. This is the player’s favorite as they can easily see their progress.

Measurements as to the player’s VO2 Maximum Uptake and levels of lactic acid through blood test are recorded. The player’s quadriceps are measured during muscle force for asymmetry in both legs. Frequently the heart rate is measured during training through the use of sensor straps.

The player’s injuries mostly occur during the first two months of training as their bodies need to adjust to the strains and stresses they are under. The biggest injuries are found in the hip, ankle and knee areas.

Physical Analysis of Young Players

  • Morphology – players are tested as to the age of their bones to help determine adult size. This is done through an x-ray of the left wrist. The player’s weight, height and percentage of body fat is measured against the age group standards.
  • Medical Purpose – determining medically related limitations
  • Physical Aspect – determining there athletic potential. Here speed is the most important.
  • Technical Skills – the most important aspect! This includes intelligence, adaptability, and expertness during the game.
  • Personality – discussed during QPS and Sports Personality section
  • Scholarship – Grades in school. The student’s behavior in and out of school and work is monitored.

The MFA feels that the player has two real jobs; one to be a soccer player and the second to go to school.

The Training Environment:

All the players have the same equipment. They are taught and expected to take care of their shoes. Each is provided with a water bottle and a ball that is required to be well inflated at all times.

The training progressions are increased at the proper time in intensity and difficulty. The training time depends on the amount of intensity and may possibly be up to two hours, depending on the frequency of recovery time.

Proposed Training Schedule


  • Skill work
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Stretching
  • Agility training
  • Basketball, volleyball or handball games


  • Skill work, repetitive exercises versus opposition
  • Games with opponents


  • Skill exercise
  • Tactical exercises which are specific in nature
  • Applications of the above tactical exercise to the game


  • Same training as Tuesday but with more leeway to the players


  • Physical implications. This is done without intensity, i.e., working for 5 seconds and resting for 20 seconds (work/rest ratio of one to four). The work is done with the ball whenever possible.
    • Speed movements
    • Strength movements
    • Jumping movements
  • Principles of Play

Saturday and Sunday:

  • Match or break

Physical Training

This aspect is broken down into three areas: Endurance, Speed, and Physical Stength. Endurance is developed through a series of calibrated run with special attention given to the rhythm of the exercise. Speed is developed through; 1) races with and without the ball over short distances of 5m, 10m, 20m, and 30m, 2) exercises with the ball, and 3) games of 2 v2 with special attention paid to the rhythm and intensity of the games. The physical strength consists of activities that promote the individual’s suppleness, supporting moves, coordination with the ball, and agility.

Skill Training: Individual Mastery of the Ball

  • Repetition of technical work at a high level
  • Juggling the ball, running with the ball, dribbling, feints, using both feet at all times
  • Kicking and passing
  • Ball control
  • Shooting
    • To be executed with both the foot and the head
    • To be comfortable in front of the goal
    • The touch (technique)
    • Precision is more important than power
    • To link up the goal scorers and finish with a shot on goal, from in front of the goal
  • Crossing and snap shots
  • Heading games
  • Defensive games with the emphasis on not committing fouls

“Passing the ball is the language of the soccer player”

Ball control is the basis of the game (always done while moving). The young French players are taught to always feint when receiving or passing which allows them to get in or out of tight marking situations. All sessions include lots of shooting and special sessions on how to cross the ball. They should always be looking for options on the field.


These elements are always part of the training games and the system of play:

  • To help the ball carrier
    • To get the ball back
    • To offer support
  • To demand the ball
  • To pass the ball and follow the pass
  • Coverage in the defense
  • Positioning and the movement into space
  • The notion of the attacker defending and the defender attacking

The Game

  • Numeric overbalance
    • Always seeking numbers up in tight space, the lower the numbers, the more responsibility each player has to undertake
  • Reduce the playing area and reduce the numbers
  • With lateral space
  • In several zones
    • Changing the zones from large to small and visa versa
    • Incorporating games with four small goals to provide target areas and played on a handball field (similar to our basketball courts)
    • Partnering up two forwards and two midfielders, etc.
  • Attacking and defending in waves (using the midfielders)


The MFA will work under the principle that “This work is very important for the game of tomorrow”. The better job they do in the development of quality players at the youth level, the more accomplished professional players will burst onto the scene. The MFA will keep a close eye on the professional clubs because they might not always be concerned with the best interests of the young players. They feel that out of all the elements, the development of the technical ability is the most important.

When professional clubs are training youth players to become professionals, there are several points to consider:

  • Young players must be trained on building up their strong points and improving their weaknesses.
  • They must be strong mentally throughout their work.
  • Players between the ages of 16-18 must work extremely hard to get to the next level and be very ambitious (Patrick Viera was very ambitious) at this age.
  • Players at this age must do a lot of work with and without the ball.
  • Young players must train with older players.

Friday, February 20, 2009

X-Rated naked economics

That was the title-caption of Malay Mail's Friday edition piece on economics bloggers. I actually found the title-caption quite amusing since it's central thrust (pun intended) was to sex-up the typically flaccid (yes, intended again) subject of economics.

The piece appropriately begins with the blogger Sakmongkol AK-47. It also dealt with Tengku Razaleigh's blog that focused on economics. And, it also mentions this blog *blush*

It also deals with other econs bloggers. Read the piece here and, an accompanying piece about etheorist here.

All thanks must go to Sakmongkol for having drawn attention to this blog and, etheorist's. Thank you, brother Sak.

X-Rated naked economics
By By NJ AHMAD February 20, 2009 Categories: Cyberspot

X-Rated naked economics IT’s been politics at full throttle for Malaysia since early last year, which is set to continue until the end of 2009.

And that’s not a good thing, for there is something looming on the horizon (some say it’s already here) – the global financial crisis.

And this will directly affect every one of us a lot more than who becomes the prime minister, the Umno deputy president or what other material there is about nowon- leave Selangor exco Elizabeth Wong.

This is the warning given by prominent socio-political blogger Datuk Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz, who is better known by his nom de plume of Sakmongkol AK47 ( ).

In an interview with Cyberspot last Wednesday, Ariff said the national obsession with politics has had the effect of diverting resources away from the need to be fully focused on dealing with the global financial crisis that started in the United States.

And Ariff, who is a former Pahang state assemblyman and has a masters degree in economics, blames the government and also opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for this lack of concentration.

“The government has been too secretive and has been slow in acknowledging the economic fallout from the US. And this threat of taking over the federal government through crossover of MPs – how can the national leaders fully concentrate when this is repeated again and again?” he said.

Ariff said it is fortunate that those with experience and expertise in matters concerning the economy – and who are aware of the unique strengths and weaknesses of Malaysia – have taken to writing their opinions and recommendations to be perused and discussed on the Internet.

Foremost among them is former Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – a close member of the Kelantan royal family and, as described by Ariff, “the best Prime Minister we never had”.

Tengku Razaleigh has had a presence in Cyberspace for a number of years through his website. However, it was only quite recently – in September last year – that he started a blog ( ), probably inspired to an extent by the overwhelming success in the blogosphere of his former political rival Tun Mahathir Mohamad ( ).

He may be a late starter when it comes to blogs but Tengku Razaleigh is Internet savvy enough to be aware of the multimedia functions available to enhance his site. In his latest post titled “1993”, there are also You-Tube videos accompanying his writing about the constitutional amendments of 1993 and the current situation in Perak.

Tengku Razaleigh’s writings on economic matters are of no less importance due to his vast experience.

Credentials are something this blogger doesn’t lack: besides having been Finance Minister, he was also a former Chairman of the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Islamic Development Bank.

X-Rated naked economics A lesser known economics blogger is lawyer CT Choo. There may be other local bloggers who also write on similar matters but there is a distinct competitive advantage in Choo’s De Minimis site ( ) – his clarity and level-headedness.

(De Minimis is Latin for ‘minimal things’. It is also an abbreviated form of the maxim and legal doctrine de minimis non curat lex – “the law cares not for small things”. In a lawsuit, a court applies the de minimis doctrine to avoid the resolution of trivial matters that are not worthy of judicial scrutiny.)

The writer may be a specialist in both law and economics but he appears to understand that most bloghoppers aren’t. Far from burdening readers with impressive-but-unfathomable graphs and charts, and peppering them with technical jargon, Choo’s writings move in the opposite direction. And this is a welcomed relief for those seeking to understand issues concerning the economy but who lack the basics of this field.

After the change of government in Perak, national attention will start to focus on the Umno general assembly next month. And then it will be the Bukit Gantang and Bukit Selambau by-elections, with the possibility of one in Bukit Lanjan too. Then there is Anwar Ibrahim, with the possibility of another “September 16” always lingering in the subconscious.

What now for Malaysia's economy? Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak will announce a second economic stimulus package on March 10. Hopefully, his economic advisors are savvy enough to take into consideration the suggestions and recommendations made by prominent economics bloggers – for everyone's sake.

● Former journalist and now free-lance writer NJ Ahmad wonders how the Theory of Marginal Utility features in Malaysian politics.

Thoughts on the dismal science
February 20, 2009 Categories: Cyberspot

Thoughts on the dismal science STILL operating below the radar of most blog-surfing Malaysians, is the economist behind Economic Policy: The Side View ( He certainly has what the majority of blogs do not: insightful posts with substance.

As written in his profile: "No uncertainty now; we're in recession. The world economy is shifting from west to east, right to left."

As an introduction, what follows is his latest post:

Maintaining Confidence

How does one maintain confidence in the face of disaster?

If there is a tsunami, or a massive outback bush fire, or a financial meltdown or an incapacitation of the economy or a massive heart attack, the correct posture should not be one that suggests it is not a serious matter.

The correct posture should be to find out exactly what is wrong - to get as much data and information as possible, analyse them and then try to come up with a logical conclusion and a course of action.

Not only should more data and information be analysed for the authorities, but such data and information should be made public so that the public has an idea of the situation and respond accordingly in their own way.

I wonder whether what happened to Pompeii was because of the policy on managing confidence, so that the public did not panic and lived as if today would be like yesterday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting casual with safety nets

I think it is about time I weighed in a bit on the very important issue of employment in the wake of the unravelling economic conditions in Malaysia although, by way of disclosure, I, myself, am an employer.

The likely order of priority for conscientious employers whose business is threatened by falling sales turnover must be to pare down costs. These should include basic stuff like reducing inventories, re-negotiating supply contracts, reviewing freight charges, restructuring borrowings and, re-locating premises. Only after all these should employers look at employment issues such as cutting pay, reducing working hours and (Heaven forbid), retrenchment and lay-offs. I am obliged to call upon employers NOT to do the dirty thing by putting deliberate pressure on certain employees to pressure them to resign. That is unethical and sinful conduct.

Getting casual
Having said all that, I anticipate that one growing trend in employment may be for employers to start sourcing for casual workers to meet work demands as it orders rise and ebb from week-to-week or, month-to-month.

Permanent staff are a fixed labour cost that employers will start having great misgivings over compared to the flexible cost provided by casual staff. Casual staff has no major protection under employment laws (which are tedious and cumbersome and, open to abuse by nasty employees). Casual staff are not entitled to EPF privileges. Benefits are very marginal and few.

But, the worst case scenario is, of course, unemployment. This is where social safety net policies need to be looked at in Malaysia.

Comparative social safety nets in other countries
This is what I have obtained from an interesting Businessweek piece:

The United Kingdom - In the United Kingdom, the system provides a very basic payment of the equivalent of USD100 per week, known as income support. Literally anybody is eligible for this income, even foreigners living in the UK. This has the great advantage that people don't starve to death in the street or in their flats. Beyond that basic level, people in the UK can apply for an old-age state pension, free health coverage, tax credits for the low-paid, and housing allowances or free government housing. Unemployment benefits are, therefore, regarded as part of a menu of poverty alleviation measures.

Japan - The Japanese ethos is said to be more puritanical. Medical costs are subsidised by 70%, for example, rather than 100%. And benefits take the form of insurance, rather than welfare. In other words, you only get paid in bad times if you have contributed in good times. The application process is stricter than in the UK, with suspicious and powerful case officers dropping around for home visits. Resigning from a company means you have to wait three months for unemployment benefits; and you must have worked at least six months in the past year to qualify. Unemployment benefits cease after one year.

The main problem is thus that while core constituencies of the economy are protected (those with regular jobs, married mothers, and old people who have paid unemployment and pension contributions), the welfare system does not sufficiently cover the workers who have been marginalised in the interests of efficiency. It is this number which has been growing, especially following former Prime Minister Koizumi's labour market reforms in 2004. These people, on low wages, may be unable to pay unemployment, health and pension contributions.

Germany - Germany has a hybrid system whereby workers work half-time for half-pay—but the state makes an extra contribution, leaving the worker with around two-thirds of his original income. 

The interesting issue is whether Malaysia has adequate social safety nets in place at the present time. We do know that regardless of whether we are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Dayak, Kadazan, Bajau, Kelabit, Kedayan, Orang Ulu and so on, when we become unemployed and, cannot find a job immediately, we balik kampung to our parents' home. That is our social safety net...our parents.

But, policy makers should note that many employees have established families replete with spouse, children, housing loan, car loan, furniture loan and other financial obligations AND, above all else, many employees are too old and too embarassed to bring the whole retinue to camp out in their parents' home. 

Perhaps, it is timely to look into this. I believe that this task should go to Ng Yen Yen's ministry. She's got the right stuff. She's got the energy. She should do it. And, of course, the fact that she leads the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development is apposite.

Or, should the job go to the Minister of Human Resources?  

Oh, well, somebody should look into this.