Kelantan vs Steve Darby: The never-ending battle

Despite FAM ordering Kelantan to cough up the salary it owes Steve Darby, the club is still to comply... 

Steve Darby's two-year battle to receive his unpaid salary from Kelantan FA entered a new stage this week.

In April 2014,the English coach was fired by the Malaysia Super League club with 17 months remaining on his contract. In May,  the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) instructed the club to pay the Englishman RM165,000 by June 8. The money did not arrive.

“I have informed FAM and my lawyer will be following with a letter,” Darby told FourFourTwo. “I  have done everything by the book and supported FAM's system but KAFA have ignored their directive.”

If the Red Warriors don't listen to FAM, then it could be the turn of FIFA to get involved to help the well-travelled former coach of Johor, Perak, Home United and Laos. In November 2015, the world governing body intervened in Malaysian football, fining Pahang six points for reportedly failing to pay compensation to striker Mohamed Borji.

For Darby, as well as actually getting paid, there is also the issue of the amount owed. While FAM told Kelantan to pay 165,000, the original amount owed was deemed to be RM636,000, almost four times as much.

The reason for the discrepancy is that in May's appeal hearing, FAM ruled to reduce the outstanding amount. Darby has still no idea why. His lawyer, who attended the appeal hearings, is also in the dark.

“I have yet to receive the grounds for this judgement,” Dary said. “My advice from FIFA is that I must obtain the grounds for this appeal decision in writing from FAM. I have requested this in writing as has my lawyer three times.”

FAM officials, as well as Kelantan management, did not respond to FourFourTwo's requests for comment on Darby's situation.

The club's homeground used to be a happy place for Darby. Photo: PDRM

Darby has had little communication with the club since his departure. According to Darby, he offered to accept payment for nine of the 17 months remaining on his contract but Kelantan boss Tan Sri Annuar Musa offered three.

It was a proposal Darby could  not accept, he said. “I politely rejected that. Everything else has then been between my lawyer or myself and FAM.”

Not surprisingly, Darby also rejected the offer of becoming technical director.

“They are stating they do not have the money,” said the 61-year-old.

But Kelantan's case in this regard does not seem to be water-tight. At the start of the 2016 season, the club  signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Vida reportedly that is reportedly worth RM16 million.

Darby is not alone in not being paid as a number of former players are still waiting. Nonetheless, Kelantan are still buying new players and hiring new coaches.

Kelantan are still able to attract players and coaches despite being in debt

Bulgarian boss Vladimir Popov took over from K Devan in May, prompting Darby to question how can the club be penniless if this was the fifth coach installed since his departure.

For the Vietnam-based coach, still fighting and waiting after two years is frustrating both personally and professionally.

“The bills keep coming in.  It is essential that a coach stays employed and this was the first time it has happened to me though I had resigned once before,” he said.

“I turned down an offer from an Indian club when I was in contract at Kelantan as I felt it was the correct thing to do.  The rest of the time I have completed contracts: three years at Johor, Home United, Perak, Thailand -12 years in total.

“Other contracts have been one year which I have completed. It is a breach on their part and there should be a pay out. They are legally allowed to terminate but they must follow due legal process.”

Kelantan have been performing below par in the MSL. Photo: PDRM

One of the little-talked about downsides of such situations is how it sours good memories and reputations. When Darby looks back on his career, his few months at Kelantan will obviously provoke mixed feelings.

“The fans were excellent at Kelantan especially the Gate H Boys!” Dary shared.

“There will always be fans that don't like you as a coach has to make decisions and you make and someone always gets upset. The players were good too and I had top class professionals with the local lads always giving 100% effort.

“I have no personal problem with Tan Sri Annuar, he was always straight to my face. There were other 'unseen hands' which have brought the demise of the club.”

Darby, with his vast experience in the region, was already something of a godfather figure to many foreign coaches and this episode means that there is another field on which he can advise.

Now though, he has to wait,and fight and he has vowed to do so, until the end.

“It has become a matter of principle as well as finance,” he added. “I will never give in.”