The successful Croat now making his mark on Malaysian youth football

The ability to turn a team into potential champions is Bojan Hodak’s forte and now the Croat, who has a host of achievements to his name across Southeast Asia with a number of regional clubs, has turned his attention to developing youth footballers in Malaysia.

Hodak's first success in the region was guiding the now-defunct UPB MyTeam FC to second spot in the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) in 2007 before he took up an offer from Phnom Penh Crown FC in 2011 and subsequently led them to the Cambodian League and also qualification to the AFC President’s Cup final round for the first time.

I am here to prepare the young players with the skills necessary to make it big at senior level

Hodak (seen above, middle at the AFF Under-18 championships) then earned cult status at Kelantan after winning a Malaysia Super League (MSL), FA Cup and Malaysia Cup treble in 2012.

He followed that up with another FA Cup crown and runners-up position in the Malaysia Cup in the following season before shifting to Johor Darul Ta’zim in 2014, winning the MSL and finished second in the Malaysia Cup.

After being overlooked for the national senior team coaching position last year, Hodak became Penang’s chief executive and helped them avoid relegation.

Now, Hodak – who has a UEFA Pro licence – has taken up a new challenge under the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM).

The young Tigers performed well at the AFF titles

The 46-year-old was appointed national under-19 coach last month and despite only having two weeks to prepare players he had not seen before, the team reached the final of the AFF Under-18 Championship in Yangon, losing 2-0 to Thailand in the final on September 17.

The achievement puts Malaysia in good stead in youth football following the recent successes in the SEA Games and the AFC under-23 qualifiers in Bangkok.

With the short preparation, they produced good results, showed hunger and desire to win matches

The national under-23 team reached next year’s tournament proper in China after topping the group in Bangkok in July, while the under-22 side took a silver medal in the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur last month, losing another final to current regional powerhouse Thailand.

While he has quickly found some success, when Hodak conducted his first few training sessions ahead of the Yangon trip he revealed a sad truth about the current state of players in the under-19 age category.

“I did some basic tactical things with the players and when I asked how many of them did these drills at their clubs, only three put up their hands," Hodak, who has a two-year contract, told FourFourTwo. "Others said they’d never done them before.

“I'm not sure how to describe this, a little bit disappointing or shocking, I don’t know. It is very good that we are now focusing on the under-19 group as they need to learn a lot.

Hodak during his time with JDT

“I am here to prepare the young players with the skills necessary to make it big at senior level."

Hodak, who is assisted by Nenad Bacina and Hairuddin Omar, was given 40 players to choose from for the AFF Under-18 Championship.

Most were with President’s Cup and youth teams, while others had some Premier League and Super League experience.

“After evaluating them for two weeks, I chose 23 players for the tournament,” Hodak said

Exceeding expectations

Malaysia defied the odds by topping Group A, finishing ahead of second-placed Thailand, with four wins and one draw, scoring 13 goals and conceding only three.

In the semi-finals, Hodak’s side edged Myanmar 5-4 on penalties following a 0-0 draw in regulation time, before the 2-0 defeat to Thailand in the final.

Johor Darul Ta’zim II (JDT II) striker Hadi Fayyadh Abdul Razak and Kedah winger Akhyar Rashid were the team’s top scorers with three goals each.

[NEXT UP: Hodak reveals his positives and negatives from the tournament]