Give “resting” a rest already
“Rest” is an apt word to describe this year’s Malaysian Super League. The players had too much rest from March to July due to the numerous short-gap breaks involving international football, exhibition matches and the Ramadhan celebrations. Now, in the month of August, they have had to endure the strains of playing as many as seven matches in 22 days and can rightly claim that they haven’t had much chance to rest and recover during this period.
But the most contentious usage of the term of late is how coaches are relieved of their duties. As a foreigner who thoroughly enjoys working in this part of the world, one of my joys of working in Malaysia is that there is always something new around the corner. The resting of coaches is a new one.
Elsewhere a coach would be “sacked”, “dismissed”, or “relieved of their duties” if their performance was perceived to be not up to scratch, but uniquely in Malaysia, coaches will be undergoing a period of rest rather than sackings. Their duties and job descriptions will be changed – normally diminished – but they will remain on the pay roll.
Players are regularly rested for a couple of matches in the midst of a gruelling season. Rest and recuperation are part of the lexicon of the football world in terms of enabling a coach to get the best out of his players. But resting the coach? It smacks of a punishment and putting him in his place. The very usage of the term when referred to coaches is confusing. The word, if used as a verb, suggests that the action is temporary and that the coach will resume his duties at a later date. This clearly isn't the case; it's more likely to be the idiomatic use of "at rest" – as in not coming back!
The most recent case involved Perak head coach Datuk M. Karathu, which was the fifth time this season that a coach in the Malaysian Super League has seen his authority – and reputation – diminished in such a way. “Rest and be thankful”, wrote the English poet William Wordsworth. I’m not sure Karathu or the other four Super League coaches who have been rested from their duties this season are thankful for the opportunity.
The five rested coaches that we’re talking about here are not a coaching quintet who lack pedigree. We are looking at five men who have earned strong reputations through their on and off field achievements. Karathu has been in the coaching scene since 1989. Abdul Rahman Ibrahim is a former national team coach and was in his third spell with Terengganu. B. Sathianathan, rested by ATM earlier in the season, is another former Harimau Malaya coach. Former Kelantan head coach George Boateng was a Dutch international who earned respect with his long English Premier League playing career and is currently preparing for his UEFA Pro Coaching licence. Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) also rested Bojan Hodak, who has had a lot of success in Malaysian football and is currently going through the latter stages of earning his UEFA Pro football licence – the highest coaching licence in the game.
Those are some impressive characters who have earned the right to be treated properly. If Karathu and Abdul Rahman were unable to get the best out of Perak and Terengganu respectively, then sack them and pay off their contracts. They have earned the right to be treated in an honest and straightforward manner. They may disagree with the decisions, but at least they will be able to get on with their lives. Similarly, if the Armed Forces believed that Sathianathan had messed up his recruitment policy at the end of last season, then – again – be straight with him. Thank him for his considerable efforts for the past few years, pay up what is owed and let him get on with the career of proving his worth elsewhere.
Same with Boateng. If he couldn’t win over Kelantan’s key playing personnel, and the management perceived that as a result that he couldn’t be effective, then sack him and pay off the contract. What is Boateng supposed to do with his situation? Listen to the incoming coach about what he should have done? He’s not that kind of character, and has more than enough money in the bank to not worry about where his next pay cheque will be coming from. And yet Kelantan – if what we read is true – saw fit to diminish his role by moving him aside without paying his dues.
And even JDT are culpable. Of all the teams you wouldn’t expect to do something so seemingly out of place, the Southern Tigers are probably the last. With the best practice in the profession, they have done everything else so professionally over the last three years, and yet the resting of Hodak remains mysterious.
If we’re talking strictly about results, the decisions surrounding Abdul Rahman and Sathia were the most understandable. Terengganu’s league form had deserted them, and whilst their run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup was exhilarating, the agonising way in which it ended could be perceived as reason to change after 18 months in the hot seat. Whilst ATM have really not lived up to their potential this year, getting off to a poor start to this campaign made the change understandable.
However, the decisions involving the others seemed very hasty. Karathu turned Perak into a one-time title contender prior to a sudden collapse in form. Boateng had a couple of poor early season results, but subsequent league results see them worse off than when he left, despite Kelantan’s thrilling run to the FA Cup final. Lastly, the Hodak decision still baffles many, as his team were making progress in the AFC Cup, were close to the top of the table, and were starting to gel.
Of course, clubs and states can manage as and how they see fit. They can hire and fire as they please and their methodology, so long as it is legal, is absolutely their own prerogative. But at a time when Malaysian football is talking about being more professional and is about to receive a substantial financial boost, the manner of moving experienced football men downwards (not even sideways) is an issue that jars me.
My argument is that the five in question deserved a better and more professional treatment from their employers than to be moved aside or, using the current trending word, rested. They had each earned the right and with the climate changing in the local game, and it is not an internationally recognised way to treat a coach that needs to be changed.
As we come into the final stretch of the Malaysia Super league season, let us hope that the FAM, league and clubs can divert our attention away from off-field issues and back to talking about thrilling matches and footballing excitement, and players battling to be part of the national team set-up and wearing the shirt with pride.
I rest my case.