Former Socceroos winger Scott Ollerenshaw has become the latest Australian to land a role in shaping Malaysia’s football future, and his appointment as Sabah FC’s new technical director comes with a warning for Australia.
Compatriot Brad Maloney led Malaysia’s U-19s to a shock 3-0 victory over Gary van Egmond’s Young Socceroos in 2019.
The minnows of Laos held the U-20’s to a 2-2 draw in the same year whilst in 2018 Vietnam defeated the Olyroos 1-0 at the AFC Championship in China.
The south-east Asians are coming and Ollerenshaw, Maloney, Perak coach Mehmet Durakovic and Johor Darul Ta’zim FC technical chief Alistair Edwards are helping lead the charge.
According to Ollerenshaw, a former teammate of Graham Arnold in the green and gold, the gap between a bevvy of south-east Asian nations and Australia has shrunk so dramatically over the past decade it’s now barely discernible.
“Back when I was playing in Malaysia (with Super League Sabah from 1994-97) we were told you could kiss goodbye to playing for the Australian national team again,” said the recently ordained TD of the Borneo-based club.
“Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia weren’t respected.
“But there was a paradigm shift which began about 15 years ago, and was probably sparked by watching the development Japan were pumping in at youth level and realising they had to do the something to prevent being left behind.
“There’s been a significant push across the board to build infrastructure and invest heavily in producing quality young players.
“It was led by Johor (the powerhouse club who have won six successive Super League titles) and has branched out from there.
“Thailand and Vietnam have also invested massively and the results are coming. A decade ago all of this was inconceivable.”
Whilst Asia has powered ahead Australia’s football nurseries have suffered from neglect and a lack of vision, with 15-cap Ollerenshaw, who made his debut under the recently deceased Frank Arok, mourning a decline which has choked the Socceroos talent pipeline.
“We had a fantastic system when the Australian Institute of Sport was up and running and churning out players who went on to have fantastic careers and give unbelievable service to the national team (Mark Viduka, Craig Moore, Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and Josip Skoko to name a few).
“Inexplicably there was then the adoption of the Dutch system (under Han Berger) where we brought in people who didn’t understand the intricacies of Australian football to run the game at youth level.
“There was an arrogance which looked down on what had previously been achieved, and those who brought these people in should hold their hands up.
“Nobody has taken accountability for that failure - and it’s been a big failure.
“They made football extremely complicated with grandiose terminology and theories but it’s not.”
Ollerenshaw, 52, believes Australia needs to go “back to basics” and concentrate “on what works for us”.
“We are not producing players anywhere near the calibre that we used to,” he added.
“That’s putting enormous pressure on Graham Arnold (with the Socceroos and Olyroos).
“In order to move in the right direction you have to hit rock bottom first - I’m just not sure we’re there yet.
“Graham Arnold is a great coach and I feel for him and know he’s working to help bring more opportunities for young players with their clubs.
“South-east Asia isn’t just closing the gap - some countries have gone past us (in producing young talent).
“What’s happened this year in the A-League is a blessing in disguise with the young players getting more opportunities. That’s happened more by luck than design.
“With the coronavirus and the salary cap going down clubs have been forced to play some of the kids, and that’s a good thing.
“Some of the young kids I’ve seen playing in the A-League are a breath of fresh air.”
Referencing his new role - a departure from Ollerenshaw’s long-established gig staging the Borneo Cup youth tournament for club teams from around the world - Ollerenshaw, 52, said: “Sabah has traditionally produced great local players but there’s been a drop off in the 20 or so years I’ve been living here,” he said.
“I know the talent is out there in the villages around the place. But they’re not going to come knocking on our door, we have to go out and find them.”
Ollerenshaw retired prematurely at the age of 31, beset by hip issues, and was instrumental in bringing a host of players with mixed parentage to the Malaysian Super League including Brendan Gan.