Zainal: Fandi needs support, but LionsXII must improve

Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has backed embattled LionsXII counterpart Fandi Ahmad, as the two teams prepare to meet in a Tuesday night MSL blockbuster.

A season defining match against league leaders Pahang FA could not have come at a worse time for the LionsXII, with the team lying sixth in the 12-team table following a 0-1 home loss to Sime Darby over the weekend.

Despite the hosts’ poor form, Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has backed his good friend Fandi Ahmad to turn the defending champions around ahead of Tuesday’s league fixture at Jalan Besar Stadium.

“LionsXII simply need to have more time with Fandi as he has plenty of experience and lessons to inculcate to the boys,” the former Malaysia international striker told FourFourTwo.

“I have seen the Lions play and this is a squad with good talent and an excellent future. The only thing that is lacking for them is the experience to consistently compete in the Super League.

“Given that he is new to the players, his handling of the boys to where they are at the moment is partially an achievement for him.”

The 50-year-old multiple Malaysia Cup winner acknowledged that it was always going to be a massive challenge for his Singaporean counterpart to replicate what predecessor V. Sundramoorthy did when he led LionsXII to the title last year.

“When Fandi took over as coach before [a ball had been kicked], the pressure was already there because they are the defending champions,” Zainal explained.

“We must look at all the angles. This is a new squad and to do something with the players takes time, not overnight.

“The first thing we have to do when we face pressure is to handle it with care. It comes only because of the results and performances from the team.”

An exasperated Fandi lamented his players' recent error strewn performances despite dedicated instruction to the contrary in training following the Sime Darby defeat.

Even as Singapore's favourite football son hinted at the possibility of dropping under-performing players from the starting eleven, Zainal said continuous encouragement was the way to go.

“If I were Fandi, I would keep telling them the same things,” he said.

“As coaches, we must encourage and coach them the perfect way. Fandi and I had played at the highest level so we desire to teach the players the good things, the perfect things.

“If the players don’t respond, the coach is the first to face the pressure. In Fandi’s case, the high amount of intense pressure he faces prompts him to want these more quickly done.”

However, performances and results matter at the end of the day. Thus, the Pahang tactician acknowledged Fandi could still take further action if the LionsXII continue to falter.

“When we first pick a player into the squad, we could see he has the talent and hope he could shine,” he concluded.

“But to one extent, if he cannot go further into the next level, as coaches we have to plan something else for him – whether it is to find other ideas or scout for another player.”