Foreign or local coaches: Which have been more successful in Malaysian football?

The need for foreign input is often debated in Malaysian football and it is an easily justifiable option considering the past six Malaysia Super League (MSL) winners have all had imported coaches at the helm. Here FourFourTwo takes a look back at the records of local and foreign coaches in domestic competitions since the MSL commenced in 2004.

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The merits of foreign coaching in Malaysia, and Southeast Asia as a whole, is a long-standing debate.

Some – including Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim – are keen supporters of employing overseas talent to guide Malaysian sides or the national team.

Many (foreign coaches) weren’t given time to execute their plans, while others struggled to adapt to the culture

There are also those that are dead against it, while some believe foreign expertise is most beneficial for development roles in age-group teams, either as a technical director or a director of coaching.

Back in August, FourFourTwo correspondent Scott McIntyre penned an article titled ‘The great Southeast Asian coaching debate - should you go foreign or local?’ which showed the majority of league championships across the region have been won with imported coaches.

Examining FourFourTwo’s four key markets in the region – Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – over the past six seasons revealed foreign coaches have won a whopping 20 league titles compared to only four winning campaigns by locals.

What about outside of the annual battle for the league title in Malaysian football?

Tunku Ismail has long been an admirer of foreign coaching

Mario Gomez remains the only foreigner to win the Best Coach award in Malaysia since the MSL was launched, which he claimed following the remarkable feat of winning the 2015 AFC Cup with Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) to go alongside the MSL title.

Fellow foreigners Peter Butler, George Boateng, Vedran Simunic, Cesar Ferrando Jimenez, Ashley Westwood and Eric Williams were all given opportunities in Malaysia. Many weren’t given time to execute their plans after an unsatisfactory start, while others struggled to adapt to the culture.

There were also those that left a lasting impressing. Steve Darby, Ken Worden and Roberts Alberts come to mind, though Alberts probably has more to shout about with Kedah than in his second Malaysian adventure with Sarawak.

Below we examine coaching results from Malaysia’s three major competitions.


M. Karathu was the last Malaysian to win the MSL when he guided Kelantan to the title back in 2011.

The Southern Tigers’ four successive league titles between 2014 and 2017 were all under the watch of foreign coaches, but with a squad and set-up like theirs anything less than winning the MSL would be considered a failure no matter who is sitting in the dugout.

Considering JDT's might, coming second should also be given due consideration

Bojan Hodak, who claimed the 2012 and 2014 titles with Kelantan and JDT respectively, could also be considered local to some extent as the Croatian started his career and obtained his coaching badges in Malaysia, but he has had foreign exposure and picked up a UEFA Pro License since.

LionsXII’s 2013 winning campaign with former Singapore international V. Sundramoorthy in charge was perhaps the only real dent in the credibility of local coaches as they could only watch on as the MSL trophy crossed the Causeway.

Local coaches Zainal Abidin Hassan (2004), Abdul Rahman Ibrahim (2005), K. Devan (2006, 2009 and 2011) and Azraai Khor (2007 and 2008) triumphed prior to that.

Considering JDT's might, coming second should also be given due consideration.

Gomez enjoyed great success with the Southern Tigers. Photo: JDT

In the four years JDT have won the league title, Mehmet Durakovic is the only foreign coach to come second, the Australian doing it twice (2013 and 2014) with Selangor. The runners-up place in 2014, however, is contentious as Pahang dropped to third after a post-season six-point penalty by FIFA due to unpaid compensation.

Sundramorthy guided LionsXII to a runners-up spot in 2012, while a Steve Darby-led Perak played bridesmaid to Kedah in 2007.

The other runners-up in the MSL era have all been local coaches. Irfan Bakti Abu Salim took five different teams to second, while the other coaches were B. Satiananthan, E. Elavarasan, Dollah Salleh, Wan Jamak Hassan and Zainal.

In 2017, seven of the 12 teams employed foreign coaches, but Durakovic was the only other one alongside JDT’s Ulisses Morais to finish in the top six as his Perak side came fifth in the standings.

In 2016, foreign coaches finished first, fourth and sixth in the table.

[NEXT UP: The domestic Cup competitions]