In an exclusive interview with FourFourTwo, Malaysian under-22 coach Frank Bernhardt says he is not in a race against time for the regional meet next year. He tells Vijhay Vick that the Malaysians are technically gifted but must be willing mentally.
The Malaysians desperately want to win the football gold medal at the SEA Games on home soil next year but strangely abandoned their Harimau Muda development programme last November without having a plan B ready to take off.
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and National Sports Council – who foots a bulk of the cost – hired German Frank Bernhardt as Ong Kim Swee’s replacement in December while the latter has since taken over the senior team permanently.
eight months preparation, 10 times more than at club football … it is enough
Bernhardt has had to start from scratch and initial plans to place a Project 2017 squad in the Malaysian league were scrapped as forming a team so soon after his arrival in January was simply not feasible.
Bernhardt had no clue who the potential players for the Games would be as little planning was done prior to his arrival. In January, Bernhardt had to call a second batch of players for trials after the first was deemed too young for the Games.
READ ALSO: Winning SEA Games new Malaysian coach’s task
The 46-year-old German is convinced he would be able to assemble a full time squad at the start of next year, giving him ample time to prepare for a potentially successful gold medal campaign. However, it remains to be seen if Malaysian clubs will agree to release their young stars.
“In the countries I have worked, preseason preparation only takes six-eight weeks,” Bernhardt told FourFourTwo.
“Here, this year will be spent searching for players and getting them together as often as possible. Next year, we have a chance to play them as a team from the beginning. So that will be eight months' preparation, 10 times more than at club football … it is enough.
“I’m focussing on the main things now. The scouting never stops but it is important to have a right set-up so we can analyse things better. So far, I have had a lot of meetings to get things in place and attended some league matches.
“The coaching set-up is pretty much set but I also need more backroom staff like a physiotherapist, masseur, video analyst and even a psychologist later on.”
Bernhardt, who will gather a squad during the international window later this month, drew flak for attending the Malaysia Super League (MSL) opener between Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and Selangor on February 13.
By doing so, he skipped JDT II’s home match the night before to travel some 330 kilometres down south for the MSL mammoth showdown.
JDT nor Selangor had any under-22 player playing while JDT II have the likes of former under-19 skipper Dominic Tan, Haify Haikal and Syazwan Andik among their ranks.
“I wanted to have a look at the highest quality in the country so I can gauge what is needed for the youngsters. I’ve been to some other matches and seen the likes of JDT II, Perak and Kedah play,” he said.
“Selangor has Adam Nor, who I may someday see if I attend Selangor’s games. I’ve identified 15 MSL players and about 20-25 in the second tier. There is a quite a difference between the top two league and the imports are making the difference for a number of teams.
Bernhardt previously coached the Estonian under-19 team and is credited for guiding the squad to the UEFA Under-19 Championship in 2009 and 2011. He joined the Estonian set-up in 2007 and served as under-21 coach before leaving in 2012.
Bernhardt, who appears to be working closely with FAM technical director Fritz Schmid, felt the Malaysians were built differently compared to the previous teams he has coached.
“The Estonians were bigger, more powerful and had better endurance. The positive thing here is the players have higher technique, which is good because the physical aspects can be worked on if the players are willing.
“Whenever you go to a new country, you have to see the culture and respond accordingly. I’ll deal with Malaysia’s own style of doing things and try to implement some new aspects, as I’ve done before,” said Bernhardt.