No light at the end of the tunnel for Sabah FA fans?

I’m compelled to feel bad for the Sabah FA fans.

I’ve been to Kota Kinabalu before, and I have a decent amount of friends from Sabah as well. And I know their passion for football is absolutely indubitable. There was a point when the Likas Stadium used to glow in exuberance on match days, particularly during the days of Matlan Marjan and Scott Ollerenshaw.

These days though, it’s a little silent. And you can’t blame the fans either. It’s relatively convenient to blame the commercialization of the Premier League for the lack of support when it comes to local football, though the picture is a lot more sophisticated than that.

Azraai Khor Abdullah – arguably one of the most celebrated coaches within the country in recent times – was announced as Sabah FA’s new head coach in September and for once, it almost seemed like a revival was potentially on the cards. Despite his poor record with Kelantan, Azraai is widely known as the man behind Kedah’s double treble triumph in 2007 and 2008 – a record that remains untouched within the Malaysian football spectrum. For once, it almost seemed like Sabah could be turned into a solid outfit.

Photo Credit: The Star
Photo Credit: The Star

Yesterday though, Azraai confirmed his departure from the club, barely a month after he started work in Kota Kinabalu. While Azraai remained professional, as he always is, a source of ours revealed that internal disruption within the FA as well as their reluctance to offer a tangible contract to the ex-Kedah coach fueled his decision to eventually leave. This came as an unexpected shock to many. But perhaps, we should have seen this coming?

The East-Malaysian side has been struggling to make an impact on local football in recent years, with plenty of internal issues bludgeoning the undivided passion from fans. After finishing as runners-up of the Premier League in 2010, the Rhinos have never really been able to cement themselves within the top-tier of Malaysian football. They barely avoided relegation by finishing 10th on the Super League table in 2011, though they were eventually sent packing back to the MPL, after finishing 13th in 2012. Since then, they been struggling to make any meaningful impact, despite investing heavily in foreign head coaches, and foreign players – which includes El Hadji Diouf and Abdoulaye Faye.

Earlier this year, this appointed George O’Callaghan – a relatively unknown Irishman – as their new head coach. But after it was revealed that the ex-Port Vale player was underqualified to coach in the MPL, the general stance of Sabah FA shifted, as they claimed that he was merely their General Manager, with Justin Ganai being appointed as their new head coach. What happened afterwards, was largely expected. O’Callaghan was sacked, after he was accused of having missed training sessions for a considerable amount of days.

Photo Credit: Sabah FA
Photo Credit: Sabah FA

At the same time, Sabah also signed Tales Dos Santos, to boost their defensive department, though it was then pointed out that his signing would not be ratified by FAM, considering that he previous club was Phuket FC – a team that competes in the second division of Thai football. FAM regulations only allowed signatures of foreigners who played for teams in the top tiers of Asian leagues. Sabah were then forced to drop him, merely days before the deadline for player registration closed.

Justin Ganai led the team for only a few months, before another managerial change was made, with ex-Brisbane Roar head coach Mike Mulvey, being handed the role. Despite the change, Sabah continues to struggle within the Premier League, before eventually finishing 7th on the table, failing to even qualify for the Malaysia Cup.

Now at this point, Sabah fans were visibly frustrated and they were publicly calling out for a shift in management, in order to push for a revival on and off the pitch. Even Datuk Ong Kim Swee was linked with a move back, which visibly got the fan base excited. And if you have been following Azraai’s updates on social media, it was evident that he was equally motivated for the challenge, like he always is.

12189695_10205193508934078_6401447439054281502_nBut Sabah FA’s sheer incompetence seems to have destroyed their momentum, yet again. Hopes within the Sabah FA clan has been crushed, yet again. And hope – which usually stems from track record – is diminishing by the day, as well. After all, this isn’t the first time they’ve fallen behind the pecking order. It’s even more frustrating, when the likes of Johor DT and Pahang FA continue to elevate themselves into greater spectrums of football.

With less than 60 days before the 2016 kicks in, the Rhinos are in a precarious position. Worse still, there appears to be no light, at the end of the tunnel.


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