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Malaysia football needs professional approach and TV deal to thrive

The struggles of the national team in 2015 were in contrast to the ground-breaking efforts of Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), as they became the first Malaysian side to win an Asian continental championship by lifting the AFC Cup.

With a new coach expected to be appointed soon in charge of Harimau Malaya and a reshaped domestic season in prospect, here are five Malaysian football wishes for 2016.

1. A close and competitive MSL

The financial resources and infrastructure behind JDT mean that there is a danger of Malaysian domestic football being further dominated by one club. While that may be great for the fans of the back-to-back champions, it wouldn't help the spectacle of the newly privatised Malaysia Super League (MSL). Without question, a strong, competitive league leads to a more capable national team.

Increased budgets at Selangor and Terengganu, plus player and management changes at PDRM and Sarawak, along with the promotion of ambitious Penang and Kedah, suggest that there will be a closely fought chase for honours.

It is nothing less than what Malaysian football needs.

2. The fan must become the focus of attention.

Malaysian football fans are hardy souls. They need to be. Very few of the stadia in the top two divisions connect with public transportation. Facilities are largely wretched if you're not in the covered, main stands with many supporters exposed to Malaysia's variable elements.

The idea of an official programme for fans with team news, player profiles and historical segments is something that is beyond the imagination of most administrators. On top of that, a fixture list that sees midweek games, and Malaysia Cup semifinals finishing around 11 p.m. on a Sunday tells you that when the season is planned, the person most distant from anyone's thoughts is the paying customer.

And yet the fan is football. Much of the excitement from the Malaysia Cup final stems from its sheer spectacle, courtesy of a colourful and vibrant ambiance. Imagine the dire atmosphere if poorly supported PDRM were to take on Sime Darby in a showcase match. Similarly, the 40,000 who saw Melaka gain promotion to the Premier League in 2015, and similar scenes of passion on display at most state teams, make Malaysian football.

So, it is time to think of the fans in making Malaysian football the unforgettable experience that it deserves to be.

3. A great TV deal to help grow the sport

TV ratings for big Malaysian matches remain staggeringly high. There is a huge and tangible interest in the sport. And yet last season, there was a lack of a consistent coverage -- other than live matches on free to air television -- of the league. For numerous complicated, financial and business reasons, TV coverage of the national sport was, at best, haphazard.

It is still not clear what will happen in 2016 when it comes to broadcasting of matches on cable or satellite television. Football Malaysia LLP, the private body recently set up to run the game, has invited bids from national and regional channels to show matches next season.

For all its faults, and for all the public impact of the national team's poor results, the lack of appropriate coverage of the MSL, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup in 2015 was something beyond comprehension.

4. Have a proper promotion and relegation system

The third-tier FAM league is a bewildering blur of changing formats and teams. For several years, it was a single league of between eight and 11 sides vying for two promotion slots to the Premier League. Last season, it was suddenly raised to 19 clubs, split into two seemingly random lists of 10, and nine teams.

It seems as though it will be two leagues of 12 for 2016. Like last season, just the champions will be promoted but no one relegated. However, information as to who will join, and who will have to drop out, is rather vague.

A slew of new teams from various state leagues will appear -- and some companies or government departments will put in sides -- playing in front of minimal crowds. How many will have long-term futures or simply disappear after a promising beginning, such as Real Mulia this year?

Rather than create teams from individual whims that may suddenly change direction like the afternoon breeze in the Klang Valley, new teams should have proper stadiums and facilities and be independently financially viable, and supported by some kind of fan base.

And there needs to be a clear structure and continuity when it comes to promotion and relegation.

5. Be more professional and accountable

Optimism about Malaysian football is so often undermined by clubs producing a seemingly endless number of "what the heck?" manoeuvres.

Examples in 2015 included at least two MSL teams falling six months behind in paying wages, coaches being "rested" after a couple of bad results before payoffs not being honoured when they finally leave, and important league and cup fixtures changed at the last moment for no valid reason.

And, of course, there was also LionsXII being thrown out of Malaysian competitions, with no warning or satisfactory explanation.

2015 was certainly eventful but, in 2016, Malaysian football needs to become more organised and professional while maintaining the exciting on-field entertainment. Because, at its core, the domestic league is a great product that deserves to be enjoyed by more people around the region.