"YOU can’t win anything with kids" is a very famous quote by Alan Hansen regarding Sir Alex Ferguson’s young Manchester United squad in 1996, which came back to bite him.
The young Devils used that quote as a rallying cry and went on to win the English Premier League that season, proving that there are no age barriers in sports.
Now here in Malaysia, current TNB Malaysian Hockey League Division 1 champions, TNB Thunderbolt will be looking to do the same as they stand a chance to defend their Division 1 crown.
Comprising only the best young players from the four sports schools under TNB’s Thunderbolt programme, this team will be looking to make history as they go head-to-head with the more seasoned professionals in the opposing teams this current season.
The four sports schools in TNB’s Thunderbolt programme are Tunku Ismail Sports School (SSTMI), Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), Anderson and Pahang Sports School (SSP-MSP).
This new approach is aimed at giving; hopefully, the country's future hockey stars some invaluable experience through TNB’s strategic development project.
The team is led by ex-national stalwart Nor Saiful Zaini, who also coaches the Project 2020 development squad, and he is very confident that the selected players will give their best throughout the season.
"We have not set a target as our immediate objective is to blood these young talents in a competitive environment and to prepare for the upcoming Junior World Cup scheduled to take place in India in December," said Saiful.
"We have selected four to five players from each of the schools in the Thunderbolt programme. We hope the selected players will use the experience they gain to help their respective schools in the TNB Malaysian Junior Hockey League next year," he added.
Saiful confirmed that there is no centralised training for the players because all of them are still in school and it will not be feasible to have the players in for training just a few days before a match. They are brought together for training one day before every match day.
The coach, himself a star right winger during his playing days, strongly believes that exposing young players to competitive hockey on a weekly basis will help them prepare for next year’s TNB MJHL which promises to give the fans some high quality and exciting matches as the players will be out to impress the selectors as they strive to be included in the National Development and Junior squads.
The four Thunderbolt affiliated schools dominated the top four spots in this year’s TNB MJHL with BJSS Thunderbolt emerging champions beating SSTMI Thunderbolt in the final, while SSP-MSP Thunderbolt finished third place after a playoff against Anderson Thunderbolt.
This reflects the huge gains the TNB’s development programme has made. Its effectiveness is felt all around. The very best players from these four teams are making TNB Thunderbolt a force to be reckoned with in MHL Division 1 this season.
Currently sharing the leader board with SSTMI with a record of 3 wins and 3 draws, the Thunderbolt boys will be looking to continue the team’s spectacular form throughout the second half of the season towards a consecutive Division 1 title.
Hockey fans throughout the country will be keeping their fingers crossed that this bold move by TNB will prove positive and produce the next generation of champions to compete consistently with the best on the world stage.