Heritage, tradition and fighting spirit have always been a huge part of the Sarawak football team. In a football world which is becoming ever more globalised, the recent decision by FAS to have an all local line up in 2018 may seem perplexing.
Fans and ex-professionals alike are rightly apprehensive as to whether FAS is moving in the right direction with such a move.
However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
To succeed, the writer believes Sarawak has first to suffer. In the words of Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle: “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.”
There is no club more self-sufficient in world football than Athletic Club, a club, founded in 1898, has played in La Liga since its inception in 1929 and is one of three teams never relegated, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Athletic is a club who has complete reliance on the youth academy, or Cantera.
Since 1912 they have adhered to a cantera policy of allowing only players born in the Basque Country or who learned their football skills at a Basque club to play for them.
The motto used to describe the reasoning behind it is “Con cantera y afición, no hace falta importación” loosely translated as “with home-grown talent and local support, you don’t need foreigners”.
The policy has proven to be a success and has been praised as a symbol of localised football being successful at the highest level, as well as preserving a strong regional identity.
In preserving Sarawak’s unique identity in the socio-political framework of Malaysia, FAS’s new policy may not be a bad one.
It would do more good than harm in adopting Athletic’s policies and youth system as all their success, past and present, has been carried out with a sole reliance on players native to the Basque Country.
Although very much a Utopian model, Athletic have kept their head above water by ensuring their training facilities are state-of-the-art and coaches have the highest possible qualifications, all things which FAS must aspire to mirror.
Notwithstanding FAS’s decision, there has been precedent where Sarawak had gone all local in 1999 and 2007.
Sarawak may face difficulties in its first season with the all local policy; in all probability, there will be more downs than ups, but in the long run, what a feeling it would be to have 11 Sarawakians defend that red and black shirt.
5, 10 years? It may take longer than we desire. But maybe we should give our kids a chance.
An all local line-up won’t change SSB’s love for the team. Neither should it affect the real fans, those fans who sit side by side watching the Belia and President games, those fans who spend their hard earned ringgit purchasing season tickets. The fans that believe in the Tommys, the Shamies, the Tiongs and Bulus of Sarawak.
Management, coaches as well as players come and go. Sarawak shouldn’t.