With only days remaining before the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup kicks off, a lot of things have been said about Dollah Salleh and his Harimau Malaya team. However, as Dez Corkhill writes, there is only one man capable of pulling off the impossible...
Back-to-back losses for Malaysia against Syria and Vietnam mean that Dollah Salleh’s squad will go into the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup surrounded by doom and gloom. Even prior to the two warm-up friendlies, the mood was one of hope rather than expectation that Malaysia could progress from a group involving Myanmar, Thailand and Singapore.
As always, the public backlash to defeat has been reactionary, overwhelmingly negative, and – as so often the case in Malaysia – one where few look for the positives from what were, in name and purpose, warm-up matches. However, it’s time to make constructively critical analysis of the job facing Dollah.
Few, if any, in Malaysia are predicting progress beyond the group stages, but 51-year old Dollah is capable of inspiring his team and turning Malaysians’ apathy into expectation by leading the Harimau Malaya to the last four. Since he was given the role in July, he has embarked on a radical change in the approach to the national team selection. Both his predecessors, Datuk K. Rajagopal and Datuk Ong Kim Swee, placed an emphasis on a youthful side developing for the next tournament, but in international football, the “next tournament” is rarely one that arrives.
Dollah seems to have his attentions focused on doing well in this Suzuki Cup because he has recalled several older, trusted players to the international stage. Do well in the Suzuki Cup, and then maybe some tinkering can take place afterward – that certainly seems to be the intention judging from his final 22-man squad.
A country for old men
Shukor Adan is the most obvious “old boy” returning to the squad, and it makes sense because he had an outstanding year with Felda United this season and is an on-pitch inspiration and an off-pitch leader. The less predictable returns are PDRM captain Muslim Ahmad and Felda winger Indra Putra Mahayuddin, while completely straight out of left field are the PDRM trio of Afif Amiruddin, Ezrie Shafizie and Azizon Kadir – the latter duo have since been dropped from the final squad.
Although it seems questionable at times – especially with Razman Roslan not being called up for his own reasons – it does give an insight on Dollah’s thinking. He saw weaknesses in the centre of defence, in on-field leadership, and in terms of bringing a calm head to try to control the tempo of the game. During his time with Pahang and PDRM, he employed similar solutions and primarily strengthened his defence with proven leaders – Damion Stewart’s move to Pahang, and Rafael Souza and Muslim Ahmad’s employment at PDRM provide evidence to support this theory.
The best teams have good defences and goalkeepers, as they breed confidence in those further ahead to take the odd risk and be more attacking. We haven’t seen it yet in terms of results, but after a period of time in which both Rajagopal and Kim Swee set up teams in justifiably cautious manners, Dollah – whose natural bent is to attack – is trying to put together a system that will encourage his attacking players to have more confidence, something we definitely saw in the Vietnam defeat.
Like Frankie said…
One thing with Dollah is that he does things his own way, and always has been. But as he has proven on countless occasions, he’s a serial winner. At MPPJ, Selangor, Pahang and PDRM, he often took the unexpected route to success and made unexpected decisions.
At MPPJ, he created the first club team to win the Malaysia Cup. At Selangor, he won the treble from the Premier league, and then rebuilt the team and took them to more Malaysia and FA Cup finals. At Pahang, he made a Premier League team believe in themselves enough to win promotion and become Malaysia Cup winners. Even just a period of six month at PDRM saw him take a strong Malaysia Premier League by storm. And if you talk to his players, you will find that he manages to create a bond within the team.
Reaching the semi-final at the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup is the minimum goal set by the FAM, but everyone should know better that Dollah wants to win the trophy. So, don’t be fooled by his affable exterior. He’s been in the game for a long time, imposing his way on a team and having the uncanny ability to generate a team spirit that enables a team to achieve more than the sum of its parts. If there's one man who can lead the nation to glory, it's him.
(Photos: asiana.my & Jason Kang)