Penang is a place people would usually associate with positive thoughts, given how beautiful it is as a place – leave alone the fact that it’s a complete food paradise. But from the footballing side of things, it’s been relatively depressing so far in 2017.
Seven games into the season, and the Panthers find themselves right at the bottom of the Malaysia Super League table with only one point – which shockingly only arrived in their last match against Melaka United. Prior to that, it was zero points from six games. And obviously, beyond their performances on the field, Penang football has also been rocked by protests from fans – a large portion of whom are against Zairil Khir Johari being the Penang FA president.
Last night, Penang FA head coach Ashley Westwood appeared as a guest on Astro Supersports’ Wonda Football Countdown and he was inevitably grilled on the problems they’ve faced this year. And the former Man United trainee didn’t hold himself back, as he articulately explained the various issues they’re facing and how he intends to deal with them.
“To be honest, I came in with an idea of a six-week pre-season. I did get the six weeks, but that was all the time I had, really. On day two, we tested for fitness and honestly, I was surprised by how far behind the players were. The six weeks should have been twelve, really. So we didn’t have enough time to get the players to where they needed to be.”
CHANGES TAKE TIME
“There’s been a huge transitional period. We’ve changed the calendar. We train in the morning. We sometimes train in the afternoon in the gym. We’ve upped the workload a lot. What I’m seeing that you don’t see is the players’ body fat has dropped by 4-5%. We are building them into professional athletes and it takes time.”
LOCAL PLAYERS’ STRUGGLES
“Like I said, the fitness of the players surprised me and the (transfer) window closed early in January – which meant I didn’t have a lot of time to search for foreigners. But I got what I wanted. I got professional foreigners to show the Malaysian boys to show that this is how we do things in Penang. I’ve come in and changed a lot. Maybe that’s too hard and too fast. The Malaysian players haven’t adapted as well as I think they have.”
IS HE THE RIGHT MAN TO TURN THINGS AROUND?
“I’ve always been a confident boy. I believe in what I do as long as I do everything I believe is right and as long as I work as hard as possible. You get up in the morning, look at the mirror and if it goes wrong, I have no regrets. I think that’s the secret of coaching: as long as you stick to your principles. If you do get sacked, do it your way. Then at the end of the day, you had a good crack and you don’t look back.”
DO THE PROTESTS AFFECT HIM?
Obviously I care about the fans, but these protests and threat don’t really affect me. It only affects me when I see my players maybe not getting on the ball sometimes, maybe being a little bit timid when they’re not. And fans read social media. I’m not on social media, I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or anything. But the players are, and that’s part and parcel of modern football. But it does filter through. So it doesn’t help the team, does it? Let’s be honest.
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION TO PENANG’S WOES?
“We’ve got to stick to our principles. We’ve lost six games, but if we got thrashed in all six games, then I’ll be the first to raise my hands. But in at least four of those games, we should have at least got a draw, maybe even a win. Statistically, we’ve done well. We’ve just not gotten the rub of the green. Regardless of how we can improve, obviously we can only attack the next game. We need a result, we need to get a bit of confidence. One win can turn everything around because the lads pick themselves back up and we’re really not a bad side. We’ve just had a bad rub of the green.
Penang fans, what are your thoughts? Let us know by commenting below!