Manilal Fernando, a name that is synonymous with football, mainly
through his commitment and dedication to a game that is regarded as the
poor man's sport - has through the years become popular enough, to
fondly earn for himself many a sobriquet, some of which are 'absolute
power', 'Guiding Force', 'a man in a million' and yet others.
Nor are we losing sight of the fact, that he continues to have a
supervisory hand as administrator of local football here, is the Vice
President of the Asian Football Federation for 12 years running a member
of the 'Players Status Committee' of the Federation International
Football Association (FIFA) and as well the FIFA Asia Development
Officer, where countries coming under his purview are India, Pakistan,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan,
Turkmanistan, Uzbakistan and Kirikistan.
Manilal, who experiences much success in his mercantile career and
yet other avenues - hasn't been that fortunate in the realm of football
There have been more downs than ups, with victories by the Sri Lanka
team hard to come by.
He would in the year 2009 be completing 30 years of pains' taking
service relentlessly rendered for the betterment of Football in this
One amongst the many things he achieved for the uplift of football,
was the coming to be of 'Football House', the headquarters of Sri Lanka
Football, with the assistance of FIFA.
On the eve of his departure to attend a Players Status Committee
meeting at the FIFA Headquarters in Zurich-Manilal seated in his office
at 'Football House' told us the other day that he has failed.
This indeed was a startling revelation which took us by surprise. For
the reason that we found it difficult to associate this go-getter with
enterprising ways, who had done so much for the furtherance of Football,
Perhaps this stems from our losing out on matches and, in particular
our defeat at the hands of Maldives in the semi-finals of the SAARC
tournament, where Maldives went ahead to win the finals. He did
emphasise that Maldives won because their club structure is
The significant thing about Manilal's admission of failure, is that
he is the exception to be different. For a good, many administrators
governing sports bodies, would swiftly cast the blame on the players and
officials but never take the blame on themselves.
This will make Manilal's estimation in the eyes of many, soar even
He considers his major failure to be his inabilitity to deliver a
national team, which is consistently a winning combination. True there
have been victories, but they have been few and far between, achieved
haphazardly and not on a regular basis.
His anguish is that despite providing national, as well as foreign
coaches from Germany, Brazil and Korea and, also changing and improving
the facilities for the national players - that we have yet not produced
a really good winning team.
Manilal strongly feels that this is the maximum that we could go in
football with the present set up. However he is certainly not through
yet, and before he retires from football he, with his initiative and
innovative ways plans to make a major structural change in the year 2009
by introducing 10 professional clubs to the premier league tournament.
The clubs being Saunders, Ratnam, Renown, Negombo Youth, Jupiters,
Blue Star Kalutara, New young Wennappuwa, Java Lane Slave Island, York
Kandy and yet another.
In this regard he has contacted 10 corporate houses led by his
friends to assist with a 1 million sponsorship per club.
This would put them on a professional structure, which will enable
them to have paid coaches, a manager, club house with modern
communication facilities, paid players and a grounds on hire for
This could be the beginning of a truly professional league, on the
lines of England, where private sector Billionaires are buying the clubs
and making money. The world verity is in a buying spree of clubs.
Manilal has approached the President of AFC (Confederation) to send
the Vision Asia team to help out with this professional structure, in
order to professionalise the clubs step by step.
Despite there being little or no success achieved on the field of
play, much has been done for the good of football in other spheres, such
as the fully equipped professional headquarters, a training centre in
Baddegane, youth training centres in Matara, Galle, Kalutara, City
League Wattala, Kelaniya, Mannar, Norwood, Badulla, Ampara and finally
Batticaloa. All of which cost around 350 million rupees given by FIFA.
There is also a very good youth training programme headed by national
player, R.M.U. Mahindapala, under whom there 25 to 30 youth
Coordinators, most of whom are national players and so as well started
training programmes in 600 schools, the fruits of which will be borne in
It is said that "where there is no vision the people perish" Manilal
Fernando's vision is for a highly professionalised premier league
tournament and, with his passion for the game and the support of his
corporate friends, things will brighten up for football to forge ahead.