Just two months into the 2016 Malaysia Super League (MSL) season, Selangor boss Zainal Abidin Hassan is feeling the heat, telling Vijhay Vick of the immense pressure since his move to the side clamouring to dominate local scene again.
Selangor were once the powerhouses of Malaysian football, a label that now belongs to Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), but the club aspires to return to its glory days.
I’ve never faced such pressure in my career. A team like Selangor demands trophies
One trophy – the 2015 Malaysia Cup – in two seasons was not enough to save Mehmet Durakovic as the Selangor management lined-up another club legend, Zainal, in hope of relieving the days when Selangor was ‘the’ club to play for.
Some fans were not too pleased with the change as many expressed desire to keep Durakovic, Selangor’s captain during a hattrick of Malaysia Cup trophies in the mid-1990s. After all, Durakovic had worked on a shoestring budget compared to the likes of JDT, Terengganu, Felda United, PDRM and Pahang.
Yet it was still a fitting return for Zainal, who had secretly harboured hopes of returning to the Klang Valley to spend more time with his family after 12 years in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Coincidentally, Pahang were also the only other team the Malaysian legend played for during his prime.
The majority of the 2015 squad was retained and Zainal brought his trusted lieutenants at Pahang – Khairul Azhan Khalid, Razman Roslan, Hafiz Kamal and R. Gopinathan – with him.
In a pre-season interview with FourFourTwo, Zainal was well aware of the demands of coaching a success-driven team but this time, in the wake of a string of poor results, the 54-year-old said it was proving the biggest challenge of his time in the dugout.
“I’ve never faced such pressure in my career,” Zainal told FourFourTwo.
“A team like Selangor demands trophies as expectations by everyone associated with the team, including the fans, are high. So the pressure is expected to some extent … but it’s certainly proving to be my toughest challenge as a coach.
“Steadying the Selangor ship will test my mettle as a coach, something that could only benefit me in the long run. To be a good coach, you have to come out strong in situations like this … face the pressure and come out tops.
“I know it’s not going to be easy. If I wanted something easy, I wouldn’t have come to Selangor,” said Zainal.
Zainal came to Selangor on the back of a disappointing season with the Elephants. His Pahang squad ran out of steam in the MSL title race, finishing two points short of back-to-back winners JDT, and were tactically outdone by Durakovic’s Selangor in the Malaysia Cup semi-finals.