OCTOBER 11 — I feel compelled to write given the controversy over the recent sacking of Lim Teong Kim, as coach of the Malaysian Under-16 team.
The sacking came within hours of the inability of Malaysia’s Under-16 team to qualify for the next round of a recent tournament, with Japan winning 2-0.
I will not comment on the tournament itself, although I think the young Malaysians acquitted themselves very well, given the circumstances, almost going to the next round.
As Malaysia’s Ambassador to Germany (1999-2003), I got to know Lim Teong Kim well. He was living in the Munich area, when I first met him, in 1999, soon after arriving in Germany.
Lim Teong Kim was closely associated with the Munich-Malaysian Society, when I first met him.
He was introduced to me as the coach of the Bayern Munich youth team. Imagine my surprise that a Malaysian could become the coach of the youth team of the leading German professional football club!
In my years in Germany, I got to know Lim Teong Kim & his Malaysian colleagues very well, as they were helping me in my work a lot.
Berlin, where the embassy was based, was in the north and Munich is in the south of Germany, and they served as the “door way” to other Malaysians for me. Suffice it to say, my friends in the Munich-Malaysian Society were invaluable in my work.
I had of course known of Lim Teong Kim’s exploits in Malaysian football.
I had the pleasure of witnessing Teong Kim as a player of our national side. To me Teong Kim was a hero of Malaysian football, in the mould of Ghani Minhat, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar Dahari, Santokh Singh, and the other greats.
I was delighted when I read that Teong Kim became a successful professional footballer in Germany, playing for Hertha Berlin, now in Division One of Germany’s Bundesliga.
If I am not mistaken, he was the only Malaysian to have a successful professional career in Germany.
I was delighted and felt a sense of pride when I discovered that Teong Kim had become a successful coach for the youth team of the biggest professional football club in Germany!
In fact, I remember introducing Lim Teong Kim to our then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (now again our prime minister!), during his official visit to Germany in 2002.
Dr Mahathir was also taken aback that a Malaysian could become the coach of the Bayern Munich youth team.
I also mentioned this to then German Chancellor, Helmut Schroeder.
I met the chancellor at a dinner in Berlin, and, for some reason, we talked football. I learned that Chancellor Schroeder was a big football fan and he supported Wolfsburg football club.
I told the chancellor about Lim Teong Kim and of course the chancellor would not believe that a Malaysian could be the coach of the youth team of Bayern Munich. (He later checked and found out that what I said was true and asked one of his aides to congratulate me!).
After my retirement from the Malaysian Foreign Service, following my stint in Germany, I went back to Germany often.
I met Teong Kim several times. He too came home to Malaysia often and never failed to visit me.
Several years ago, Tiong Kim told me that he was asked to consider coming home to Malaysia to coach.
He told me that he would only consider coaching our youth side, for he felt that youth development held the key to Malaysia’s revival as a footballing nation.
He felt that we needed to rebuild our football at the youth level if we wanted to reach the kind of heights that our national team once reached.
When I heard that he was to be in charge of the Mokhtar Dahari Football Academy, being built in Gambang, Pahang to train our youth, I was delighted.
I was most encouraged that a coach of one of the most successful clubs in the world was willing to put his future in our youth.
I felt that Teong Kim could do much by transforming our young to be world beaters and that would have an impact, hopefully, on our national side.
Teong Kim had successfully trained players like Thomas Muller and Emre Can, and a host of others for club and country; to have him train our young would be ideal.
Here was a man whose professional career had taken him to Germany, first as a player, then as a coach for 12 years for one of Europe’s top sides.
I know for a fact that Teong Kim is, first and foremost, a true Malaysian patriot, that is why he decided to forego a lucrative career in Germany.
He did so because he had the opportunity to take Malaysian football to the heights we once reached.
As long as I have known Teong Kim, I have known him to be driven by a passion for his country, Malaysia, and by his love for football.
It is my hope that Teong Kim would get a fair hearing from our new Minister of Youth and Sports Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
It is my firm belief that knowing Teong Kim, his passion and know-how can take Malaysian football on the right path.
It is also my belief that the decision for FAM to dismiss Tiong Kim, may perhaps have been taken in haste.
What makes it worse, one suspects, is that Malaysian football will suffer and our hopes that Malaysia could one day emerge as having one of the best teams in the region, as we once had, will suffer as well.
Finally, I cannot imagine that it is money which drew Teong Kim home, knowing the man.
Coaching in a top professional football club in Germany would be far more lucrative for him.
It is a grave injustice to the man if the Malaysian public is left with the impression that Lim Teong Kim is “only here for the money,” so to speak.
* Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohd Deen was the Malaysian Ambassador to Germany, 1999-2003.