Leveling the field for Sarawak football
IT TAKES dedication, discipline and hours of practice to become a world-standard football player, but for many outstanding football players, the passion for the sport begins at a young age.
For Malaysian-Swedish footballer Junior Eldstal, 23, who plays defensive midfield for Sarawak, he started playing football at five years old and at that time, he was fortunate to get good coaching from the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
“It’s a different story here. In Sarawak, kids are not getting the opportunity to get the right coaching, and I do see the development for youth football as the biggest problem that we’ve got here,” he stated when met with The Borneo Post SEEDS at State Stadium, Petra Jaya on Mar 7.
Eldstal, who represented Malaysia at the youth level for the under-23s at the 2013 Pesta Bola Merdeka, added, “Malaysians should improve on their grassroots level in order to have a solid team, scouting players from a very young age, including those from football clubs at schools, getting them to get more involved in football activities. It is important to ensure the kids get active and this can help to make big difference in the local football scene.”
However, inadequate infrastructure and facilities in the state has to be the greatest obstacle among professional football players.
According to Sarawak head coach Robert Alberts, 60, there is still more work to do when it comes to youth development in football.
“We need to build more good infrastructures. Youths should start training and playing on good fields. In this stadium for instance, proper maintenance is highly required, to ensure a good field to play and train. Infrastructures should be the number one consideration in local football development.
“The thing that I don’t understand is that, there’s so much money available everywhere for big projects, but on the grassroots level it is very limited, it should be the other way around.”
Choosing good players for the team is essential in ensuring good team spirit, mutual understanding and cooperation among all team members.
When asked how he picked his players, Alberts said: “One thing that I want the players to have is to always have fun. When we think back on how we started playing football, may it be in the kampung or on the streets, the first reason we started playing is because we want to have fun.
“It is very important for my players to always have fun playing football. Nevertheless, they must also concentrate and focus on the game, not forgetting the fun that they are looking for. They must look at the training as fun, so that they will look forward for their next training and keep the game going.”
Alberts managed various football clubs including Kedah, and Indonesian teams Arema Indonesia as well as PSM Makassar. His glowing resume included stints managing international youth-level football before his stint in Sarawak in 2011 which gives him a certain edge in cultivating the Sarawak team despite cultural differences.
“I have been travelling all around the world, and I do see it as my advantage as to understand various cultures and mentality, and so I do learn on ways to mend my team a little bit together so the team will always stand with each other, respecting each other, and at the same time, understand each other.”
The Sarawak football team’s import players include Hungarian Gabor Gyepes who, considering his vast experience once playing in the English Premier League with Portsmouth and played against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, may help boost the standards of football players in addition to players like Eldstal and Bosnian striker Muamer Salibasic.
For our own Sarawakian pride, team captain Joseph Kalang Tie, 27, known for his technical ability, creativity, pace, and the ability to read the game as an experienced midfielder, having import players in the team motivates the local players positively.
“Local Sarawakian football players should open their mind with good mindset and take this as challenge. The foreign players should be given their own standard of class, and as foreign players, they need to give their priority to the local players as to improve our local players and strengthen the Sarawak team.”
When asked about his hope for local football scene, he said that he was most happy to see that today the youths in Sarawak were getting more active in football.
“I hope that one day; these players will replace us and will then bring our state into a higher level than what we have achieved to now. That is my hope for local football that I am looking forward to be fulfilled.”