'Dumbfounded' Malaysian under-22 coach laments lack of urgency

Six months out from the Southeast Asian Games, Malaysian Under-22 coach Frank Bernhardt remains unclear on his preparation schedule, as he told FourFourTwo...

German Frank Bernhardt must have thought the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) was a professional outfit when he first accepted the offer to coach the national under-22 squad for this year’s Southeast Asian Games.

The 48-year-old submitted a proposal last August to FAM to have his trainees gather full time from May 1 onwards until the biennial games to mould a solid team good enough to regain the football gold medal.

I am quite dumbfounded as it seems that there are more important things in football here rather than the national team

- Frank Bernhardt

Unfortunately, Bernhardt is still waiting for confirmation.

In the 13 months since he was appointed, he has tested more than 50 players and, from that number, only a few truly understands his coaching concept and tactics.

Last year, the coach only had nine weeks in total with his trainees, but there were also issues during the stagnated training stints as some clubs did not release their players due to league commitments and injuries.

Bernhardt’s team played 12 international and training matches in 2016 and he found that most players were struggling with fitness as they were not regulars with their clubs.

The frustrated former Estonia under-21 coach said he has about 30 players that he wants for centralised training for the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur from August 19-31, but is still awaiting approval.

Bernhardt knows he needs more time to develop his squad

“If I was coaching in Germany and I had submitted my proposal for the national team, it would have been approved a year in advance. I am quite dumbfounded as it seems that there are more important things in football here rather than the national team,” Bernhardt told FourFourTwo.

“Other countries treat major tournaments very seriously. Teams like Germany and England will have their players in centralised training for between four and six weeks ahead of the World Cup and European Championship.

Everyone says that the Southeast Asian Games is very important and that we must regain the title, but nothing is being done

- Bernhardt

“Everyone says that the Southeast Asian Games is very important and that we must regain the title, but nothing is being done to make sure the coach has enough time to prepare his players.”

Bernhardt through FAM had written to Malaysian clubs requesting them to release their players full-time from May onwards, but several top teams were reluctant to give their commitment.

It has caused a delay in Bernhardt’s plans in getting his squad ready for the tournament.

“If my proposal is not approved, I will only have one week to prepare before the start of the competition. It will not be enough and if we do not achieve our target, fans and those concerned should not put the blame on the team.

“However, I am not a quitter. How we do in the AFC under-23 qualifiers on July 15-23 will give me an indication whether we can win the Southeast Asian title.”

Davies is expected to be involved in August

The team is due to play Vietnam in a friendly on February 7 at Ho Chi Minh City and will also compete in the Dubai Cup on March 20-28 ahead of the AFC qualifiers and the SEA Games.

Among the players expected to play in the Games are Kedah’s Ifwat Akmal Che Kassim, Syafiq Ahmad and Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik; Johor Darul Ta’zim’s Dominic Tan and Safawi Rasid; Penang’s S. Kumaahran and Jafri Firdaus Chew; and Pahang’s Matthew Davies.

We have received the support from most teams but some do not want to release players ... we are quite disappointed

- FAM general-secretary Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin

FAM general-secretary Datuk Hamidin Mohd Amin has urged clubs to support Bernhardt’s full-time training proposal.

“We have received the support from most teams but some do not want to release players by giving unrealistic excuses,” Hamidin said. “We are quite disappointed as the national team should be a priority.

“The national team committee will discuss Bernhardt’s proposal. We are definitely looking at making it a must for clubs to release their players from May onwards.”

Malaysia last won the Southeast Asian Games gold medal in the 2011 Indonesia edition under coach Ong Kim Swee.

The team finished fourth in the 2013 Myanmar edition and did not make the semi-finals in Singapore in 2015.

Photos: Asiana.my