Adlane Messelem, Telling It Like It Is: Overweight, smoking footballers, hidden agendas and the Sabah FA

Frenchman Adlane Messelem was unveiled as Malaysia Premier League side Sabah’s new team manager on January 18 this year. By March 19, following six defeats in their opening seven games, he was gone. This is his account of what took place in those eight short weeks…

It sounds simple enough, but it would be good to know why I was brought to Sabah in the first place.

I met with Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman, who was very concerned by the bad results of the previous season. I presented a project to develop the club, both with the senior team and also to implement a youth development plan in the state to prepare for the future.

Early on we realised we were not very welcome as it seemed clear some people in the club had other plans for the team

Datuk Musa had a lot of respect for me so he invited me to join Sabah and I was asked to bring a qualified coach and better import players with me, so I approached Steve Vilmiaire, a coach who has a UEFA ‘A’ licence.

As for imported players, I contacted Jonathan Behe, who had scored 19 goals in Singapore last season; Sofiane Chouban, who played in the top league with Algeria last season; and Jitozono Masaya, who won four trophies with Albirex Niigata in the S.League last season.

So the cast wasn’t bad, but early on we realised we were not very welcome as it seemed clear some people in the club had other plans for the team.

I was brought in to be the sporting director and the chairman appointed me as the team manager too — it was way too much for some people in the club, who started to find any excuse to discredit me and my team.

We were also surprised to see that some players were overweight and were smoking in the changing room.

It was all smiles when Messelem joined the MPL club. Photo: Sabah FA

We wanted to change things and run the changing room the same as it is run in European leagues.

But it was too much to ask of them at some point, especially as we were viewed as foreigners who were unfamiliar with Malaysian culture.

I cannot blame the players too much as it was new for them, but results were not ideal at that point and I started to consider resigning.

We were also surprised to see that some players were overweight and were smoking in the changing room

As the chairman mentioned during the launch of the season, I was professional enough to meet him and offer my resignation if I believed I couldn't do anything to help the team.

So that's what I did. I actually thought about it for a few weeks before it was made official but I had to talk to my coach Steve and he decided to follow me.

We have to share responsibility for the poor results, of course, and we probably made some mistakes, but we are professional people with European standards.

Sabah appointing a local coach thereafter was the best thing to do, really. At least he knows more about the culture and mentality. I don’t think people ever really accepted us. Our expectations and ambitions for them were probably too high.

That said I have huge respect for Datuk Musa, who is a very honorable person and who showed a lot of respect for our work, but I’m afraid people in the club did not share the same sentiments.

[NEXT: Regrets, strengths, and where is the ambition?]