Can Sarawak rise from the ashes again?

Football Association Sarawak Logo

KUCHING: Sarawak football is going through a lean period. The squad have fallen to their knees following relegation to the lowly M3 League.

To rub salt into the wound, Sarawak — once proudly known as the Crocs — were beaten by their younger brothers Kuching FA in the final decider to decide who stay in the Premier League and who suffer the ignominy of playing in the third division.

It was interesting to note that a top player like Joseph Kalang Tie starring for Kuching FA instead of the senior Sarawak team.

What happened to the Sarawak team who once were the elite side in the Malaysian M-League? Never in their history have they ever played in the third division which is mainly for club sides.

Remember just hardly six years back, they were known as the “Invincibles” and were a force ready to take on any team in the Super League under then coach Robert Alberts. The Sarawak team ticked the boxes when it came to the three ingredients of success — good management, a capable coach and players who can hold on their own.

It was a sign to come when local coaches like David Usop and Mohd Farhan were dropped. These two had learnt their trades under the wily and successful Dutch coach Alberts. The new officials made the prophetic and proud announcements when they took over the regime under Datuk Sudarsono Osman that they wanted an all local Sarawak side.

It was the first signs of these officials who might not have seen past football matches, how top teams recruited top foreign players to strengthen and survive in the very competitive league.

It is to the credit of president Datuk Posa Majais who took over the reins as president of the Sarawak FA, as the hot seat requires huge responsibilities especially on the financial factor.

On reflection, Sarawak football has gone back to the dumps. Like in the 1970s and 1980s when they were labelled as whipping boys of Malaysian football, then in the 1990s they were proud Ngap Sayot side and then the Bujang Senangs under the stewardship of successful coach Alan Vest.

In the few years after Vest left, the team began to slide with no coaches being able to mend the holes, not until the truly tested coach Robert Alberts brought the team to play attractive and attacking football and instilled the winning mentality in the players.

Although it did not win any major trophies apart from the Premier League title, Sarawak football enjoyed large crowds with full capacity in every home match. Sarawak football stayed at the top of the Super League elite teams.

So what now for Sarawak football as the pendulum has swung back? It is time to concentrate on rebuilding the squad.

First, the FA must be made up of officials with the vision like the late Datuk Taha Ariffin or Sudarsono.

Development or grassroots training of youngsters like the under 12, under 14 or even under 16 have been neglected all these years. Even academies were abandoned.  For Sarawak football to emerge from the wilderness, we need a serious rethink if we are planning to rise from the ashes — once again!