AFC's Velappan discusses highlights of his career

On 27 December 2007, Asian Football Confederation Secretary General Datuk Peter Velappan will retire after 29 years with the continent's football management body. Described by Anita Anandarajah of the New Straits Times (Kuala Kumpur) as the "Tamil school boy from Siliau Estate School in Negri Sembilan", Velappan told her some of his best memories of his career so far.

The Korea/Japan World Cup is especially close to his heart, the seed of an idea which germinated from former FIFA president Joao Havelange when the pair were en route to Tokyo in 1994. “Havelange wanted Asia to host the World Cup and at that time, only Japan was economically sound and had just begun serious professional football by introducing the J-League. When Japan applied to be the host in 1995, Korea launched an aggressive campaign to host the event,” he explained. AFC decided to recommend both Korea and Japan. The next day, Sepp Blatter, then FIFA general secretary, called for the letter of recommendation to be removed. “I worried that if Korea won the bid, we would lose our economic partner in Japan, which might then switch to other sports like baseball,” said Velappan.

Havelange agreed to have Korea and Japan as joint hosts and placed the responsibility on Velappan to see the partnership through in his capacity as co-ordination director. “It was the best World Cup ever, the World Cup of Smiles. It was the first time two countries with a frosty political history were united via football. Twenty-four million Koreans began celebrating on the streets,” he said.

Velappan has earned the nickname Pistol Pete for his blunt comments over the years, including for questioning Beijing’s suitability to host the Olympics. “In this job honesty and transparency gains respect. Mine has been an honest journey with direct communications. I call a spade a spade, without fear or favour."

On Malaysian football: “As a Malaysian, I really want her to realise her potential and play in the Olympics again,” said Velappan, who led the Malaysian team into the 1972 Munich Olympics. “These days only professional players can play in the World Cup. These events are not for amateurs. We need a very good professional football system. Japan proved that the J-League was instrumental in providing quality players from grassroots. We have enough talents in Malaysia and it is so important that these talents are developed along a professional system. We don’t have to worry about facilities,” he said, responding to a comment on Malaysia’s success in the 1970s despite the absence of state-of-the-art stadiums and lucrative sponsorships.

With retirement on the horizon, Anandarajah, observed, the 70-year-old looks anything but ready to throw in the towel. “After such a career, it won’t be easy to ditch football and do something else. I will start writing memoirs on my life in football. I may go back to university and, for egotistical reasons, do a PhD on the sociological, political and economic perspectives of football,” he said.