Kedah’s coach Tan aiming for Malaysia hotseat

As a player, Tan Cheng Hoe had a glittering career and now he aims to make his mark as a coach in Malaysia... 

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Johor Darul Ta'zim may have training facilities modelled on those at Borussia Dortmund but arrive at Kedah's home ground and the sight of thousands of yellow-shirted fans is a more obvious reminder of  the German giants.

There may not be quite as many in the Darul Aman Stadium as in the Westfalenstadion but the 30,000 who fill the Alor Setar arena provide a visual and aural experience that ranks alongside anywhere.

And it’s what drew Kedah coach Tan Cheng Hoe to the club in 2014, in the first place.

“It's the best atmosphere in Malaysia,” Tan told FourFourTwo.

“In Kedah there is not much entertainment, there's only football. And we have been playing well so hopefully the fans respond to that.”

Last weekend, the fans responded once more and roared their heroes on as they became the first team since last October to defeat champions JDT on home soil.

The 2-1 win at home in the first leg of the FA Cup semi-final was intense and exciting even if there is still 90 minutes to play.

Kedah pulled off a shocker by beating JDT

How did the coach and the players do it?

“There is no secret. JDT's strength is attacking. You can't give them any room or space. You need to press them strong and hard. If you have the opportunity to attack then you need to take it. You need to score. They are very fast on the counter-attack and you have to deal with the mobility of Lucero and Diaz,” Tan shared.

After guiding Kedah to promotion last year, the former Malaysia assistant coach has set about preparing a team capable of challenging the best in the Malaysia Super League.

Things have been going well so far, and had Penang not grabbed a late equaliser to draw 2-2 in mid-April, Kedah would have moved into third place with a third of the season already gone. 

But there is a difference in quality between the Premier League and Super League, Tan notes. The tempo varies and there are more quality players in the top flight.

It is easy to recover from a loss in the Premier League but one defeat could turn into many in the top division.

Kedah are not getting carried away at the moment though.

Kedah fans are one of the best in the MSL

“Promotion is a challenge, I told the players at the start of the season,” Tan said.

“We fought so hard to come up and we don't want to go back down. You need to be focused on survival and staying.”

There are even talks of a possible title challenge, a distraction which Tan was not exactly thrilled with.

Plenty of coaches of promoted teams in years gone by have grumbled about unrealistic expectations.

In many parts of the world, teams that come up are usually happy to just survive – not in Malaysia.

And Kedah's history makes expectations ever harder to dampen. The last time the team was promoted was in 2006.

Kedah are still the only team to have done the treble

What happened the season after was incredible. Kedah won all three domestic trophies and then did the same the year after. You can't write about the Red Hawks and not mention the famous double-treble winning team of 2007 and 2008.  

“Expectations are always high here in Malaysia,” admitted the former Kedah player. “The supporters are different to those in Europe. The moment the team is promoted, they want you to win everything. In Europe, it is different. The first target is to survive. Here, it is to win a trophy.

“You need to consider the budget too, it is not big compared to some other teams so if we can finish in the top six, it will be good enough. I think the management would accept that but the fans want to win the league.

“Fans think we have the same capability but this is a different era. Compared to 2007 and 2008, there was no JDT back then.”

These days, the boss, 48, singles out stars such as Baddrol Bakhtiar who is playing with maturity, youngsters like Farhan Roslan, the teenage scorer against JDT, and imports such as the combative Liridon Krasniqi from Kosovo and Bang Seung-hwan, the former South Korean attacker converted into a Malaysia Super League defender.

Coach Tan addressing the squad before a game

The balance of the team is improving. Perhaps the one disappointment so far is Carlos Kahe.

The Brazilian was signed to lead the line but, despite a CV that includes Borussia Monchengladbach, the number nine has yet to really impress.

There is still time for Kahe to redeem himself yet, especially in the second leg of the FA Cup semi-final on April 30.

The game, at what will be a packed Larkin Stadium, will be a great test for Kedah. Come through that and who knows what the team could achieve?

“We still have 90 minutes and 2-1 is not good enough. We can get a good result and a draw would be enough but you can't defend for 90 minutes and be defensive against JDT. We will be looking to score,” Tan said.

After missing much of the run to the Malaysia Cup final last year thanks to a Chinese coaching course, Tan is looking to make up for lost time.

By winning the FA Cup, he would be one step closer to his ultimate ambition

“I would like to coach Malaysia one day but if I have the opportunity to coach overseas, that would be the highest achievement for me. Everything is possible,” he said.

Photo: Kedah