Winning SEA Games new Malaysian coach's task

New Malaysian under-23 coach Frank Bernhardt is unfazed by new surroundings as the German plots the country’s 2017 SEA Games gold medal assault on home soil.

The Malaysians officially began their preparations on Monday towards the sizeable goal of winning the SEA Games football event, with Bernhardt conducting trials for players and assistant coaches in a bid to form his 'Project 2017' squad as soon as possible.

The future of the squad – which the German feels should be together full-time – is expected to be finalised this week and Bernhardt believes that a regular place in Malaysian football would be ideal.

Bernhardt is expected to name 25 players from the 39 called up for selection so far and pick either former Harimau Muda C coach Hassan Sazali Waras, former national team assistant coach Reduan Abdullah, P. Maniam or Azlan Johar as his assistant. Ten players from the initial squad of 39 did not turn up for the first day of selection and will join in on Tuesday.

“I am here to win the Games. Now, I know nothing about Malaysian football, but football is the same everywhere and you have to get the players into the right positions,” said Bernhardt.

“The others will join tomorrow. It’ll take at least two weeks before I get a full idea of the Project 2017 team. For now I need four backroom personnel, including myself … a goalkeeper coach, personal trainer and assistant coach.

“I have given the candidates some exercises to do in training and I want to see how they respond to it (on the field) before I pick my man,” he said.

FourFourTwo understands there are efforts to place the team in the Malaysian Premier League (MPL), but an increase to a 13-team league would create problems for organising body Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnerships’ scheduling.

Also, many of the 39 players called for selection have already signed contracts with Malaysian clubs after being released by Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) following the disbandment of the Harimau Muda development project in November.

Bernhardt could face difficulties in getting players such as Kogileswaran Raj, Dominic Tan, Adam Nor Azlin and Hafiy Haikal Ismail into his regular plans.

“We need them full-time and the plan was to play in the league and have camps abroad at times. A decision by FAM is expected this week,” said Bernhardt.

“We have to look at the contract of the players and see how to work with it … perhaps, talk to the clubs, the players and their coaches to find the best solution.”

The Malaysians are desperate to win the SEA Games again, a tournament Thailand have won in the past two editions. Malaysia ended a 20-year wait in 2009 under K. Rajagobal and defended the title under Ong Kim Swee in 2011.

It is no surprise the powers-that-be are keen on the Project 2017 squad playing as a team in the MPL. Malaysia’s triumphs in 2009 and 2011 came at a time when the now-defunct Harimau Muda project featured in domestic competitions.