Burma’s Under-19 men’s football team triumphed at a regional tournament in Brunei over the weekend, showing remarkable spirit as they ended a miserably long history of defeat. The win came on Saturday, as the team beat their Vietnamese counterparts 4-3 in the final of the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy. After the match, the chairman of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) Zaw Zaw, a prominent businessman, caught up with The Irrawaddy.
Question: Why do you think Burma was able to clinch the win this weekend?
Answer: Preparation was the major contributing factor. The players worked hard and the coaches taught them to act with discipline and observe fair play. Another contributor was the cooperation of football club owners, who nurtured these players in their respective football clubs or football academies before allowing them to join the tournament. The support of Burmese fans was a driving force for our players. The victory was indeed the result of a deep hunger to win, good preparation and teamwork, plus strong cooperation among the head coach, assistant coaches and team leaders.
Q: Will U-19 players be selected for the national team? What’s the plan?
A: Our main target is the Asian (AFC) U-19 Youth Championship. We won’t give the players to any other team before the championship. We plan to take a risk and play the Thai U-19 team that will compete in the Asian Games. In sports, we won’t improve if we don’t play stronger teams. We’ll leave here on the 30th of this month to play against the Thai team and train in Bangkok. Then we’ll proceed to Vietnam. We’ll compete in the Asian U-19 Youth Championship in October.
Q:Burmese people are quite happy about the victory in Brunei. How will MFF help maintain a winning record in the future?
A: In football, there are three levels for us—the Asean, Asian and international levels. Now we are going to test our strength at the Asian level, to see if we can break into the international level.
We’ll lag behind if we can’t do what other countries are doing. For example, in countries like Thailand, every football club has a football academy. Football clubs and schools jointly organize a lot of football tournaments, and brilliant players at inter-school tournaments are selected to football academies. Inter-academy football tournaments are held and outstanding players are selected for the national league. But for that, we in Burma would need facilities, financing and sponsors. If the infrastructure is built as the country sees economic growth, our football standard will improve. And once we have the infrastructure, it is also important that our football team can play 10 to 12 football matches in a year abroad. Only then will there be results.
The professional league must also guarantee a decent livelihood for football players. If the salary at the professional league is just 50,000 to 100,000 kyats (US$50-$100) per month, no parents will let their children play football because there will be no guarantee for their lives.
We need to upgrade the grassroots-level league to a national league and then a professional one. We have ideas for how to do this, but we need people with the time and money to act on these ideas. We can’t transform overnight. Just take a look at how much Thai football clubs spend—six times more than we do, while the expenses of Vietnamese clubs are five times greater than our own. Vietnamese clubs have their own football academies and each club has U-14, U-16 and U-19 teams. They have their own pitches. We have to compete with them.
We compete with other countries while we have next to nothing in resources compared with them. We have struggled. In the past, we competed in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup and now in the AFC Cup. To play in the Asian Champions League (ACL), we’ll need club licenses. Otherwise we won’t be able to take part in Asia’s highest competition, and we can only daydream about becoming an Asian champion.
In Thailand, a football club gets support equivalent to the assistance given to a national team by the national football federation. Their improvement therefore is very good. We were able to clinch victory only because our U-19 football players have talent and love for their motherland. We are still lacking in many things.