In the new world order coaches no longer have to hear whispers in corridors to know that the knives are out; now with Facebook and Twitter they can get a pretty decent idea of what their future looks like direct from the source.
So it was for Zainal Abidin Hassan, who shortly after Selangor’s fourth straight loss to Kedah on Saturday, was being referred to as a former coach two days before the axe fell after FAS President Datuk Seri Azmin Ali tweeted that he’d decided to ‘take decisive action’ in the wake of the loss.
That action included not only the scalp of the now officially former coach but also those of General-Secretary Rosman Ibrahim and treasurer S. Sivaundaram, who also left their posts.
Assistant coach K. Gunalan was thrust into the hot seat and as is often the way managed to guide the team back to the winner’s circle with a 3-0 victory over Pahang on Tuesday evening, after making a whole host of personnel changes and a captaincy one to help rescue what was a floundering defence of their Malaysia Cup title.
That defence will face another stern test as the team meet Kelantan in the penultimate group stage match of the Malaysia Cup on Friday and short-termism suggests that if the Pahang performance is parlayed with another three points, the former assistant may well be checking into Twitter shortly afterwards to see if he’s earned a permanent promotion.
The problems though run much deeper than a couple of positive results and there are many in and around the club who believe the only way forward is for a deep-reaching cutting of ties and a completely fresh start for a team who should be perennial contenders for silverware.
Barely eight months ago the club won an historic 33rd Malaysia Cup title, shortly after finishing second in the league; a pair of achievements which should have been the spur towards a new era of prosperity yet the unraveling of this proud organisation in a tick over half a year has been nothing short of spectacular.
The problems began when former Pahang boss Zainal finally replaced the man who led them to that success, Mehmet Durakovic, after months of whispers and innuendo and deepened when the new man brought a cabal of former players with him.
Whilst it’s a natural course of events to want to work with players you’re familiar with the reality here is that in many ways it’s fractured what was a strong team culture and no more is this more starkly evident than in the bemusing situation with the goalkeeping position.
A standout last year in the run to the Malaysia Cup title, where he frequently claimed man-of-the-match honours, Norazlan Razali has been involved in a rather unedifying version of musical chairs with a player that Zainal brought with him from Pahang in Khairul Azhan Khalid.
The pair have been undertaking an odd form of job sharing with each seemingly playing a handful of matches before the other takes over – at the position requiring the most stability the constant change was a baffling move that many have pegged as a reason behind the club’s dramatic fall from grace this year.
More than that though has been fractious relations within the team itself highlighted by an incident after the 3-1 loss to FELDA in April.
Whilst full details of what occurred have never been publicly released sources told Fox Sports Asia that Argentine forward Mauro Olivi was unhappy that Mohd Hafiz Kamal had not shaken his hand after he was replaced just after the hour and that led to a confrontation in the dressing rooms post-match.
A furious Olivi launched into a verbal tirade against the former Pahang midfielder before dramatically launching a left hook at the player which sparked a huge melee inside the rooms with the players having to be separated to prevent them from inflicting serious damage on each other.
The measly response from the former manager was for the pair to shake hands and ‘make up’ despite the fact that several players wanted the Argentine dismissed from the team and after announcing that Olivi would face a harsh punishment he was welcomed back to training after less than a week and that’s kind of spineless action that has seen the club slide to the position where they currently are.
Moreover, large sections of what’s one of the most passionate fan bases in Asia have been upset at events in an around the club for a long period of time.
Crowds have fallen quite dramatically off a cliff this season to the point where there was barely more than a thousand at the win over Pahang on Tuesday and banners demanding the resignation of those the supporters believe have been responsible for the decline have become a frequent sight at the Shah Alam, including a ghoulish poster doing the rounds of social media with the dismissed pair Rozlin and Sivaundaram having the word ‘parasite’ plastered across their foreheads.
It was that same group of supporters who forced the club to overturn their decision to let go of popular Australian defender Robert Cornthwaite at the end of the previous season but even fan power couldn’t save the new Western Sydney Wanderers recruit after he was cut last month to make way for Ugo Ukah.
The Nigerian was quoted by an outlet in his homeland as thanking God for looking after him – he might want to check back in after a couple of less than par performances or if, God forbid, injury strikes.
Cornthwaite told Fox Sports Asia that’s he’s happy with how things have worked out with his move to the 2014 Asian Champions League winners but admits he’s saddened with the way that things have fallen apart at Selangor.
“I’m disappointed with the way that things have unfolded at the club, for sure, after we had such a successful run last year.
“They’ve ripped the heart out of the club and some big changes are probably needed to improve things at Selangor.”
Those changes include the belief in some quarters that privatization is perhaps the best way to ensure that things can improve free from those with ties to the club.
Others have proposed that whoever the new coach is that they should be someone free of connections to the club who is able to come in not tied to internal politics and truly start afresh.
More than that though, competent backroom and front office staff may also be a good place to start if the club truly desires cultural change.
That means, club administrators – unlike the recently dismissed duo – who actually bother to turn up to matches rather than adopting a careerist, political, approach.
It means too officials who don’t pocket money from gate receipts and have their hands stuffed with the ‘cut’ of transfer fees and keep pushing players out the door to keep earning their backhanders by bringing new ones in.
It means also treating those who have given their heart and soul to the club with the respect they deserve and not orchestrating campaigns in secret to further the agenda of those in power.
It means too improving what are woefully inadequate training and recovery facilities and it means instilling a team culture where discipline is properly respected.
Until all those changes are made, those at the top can tweet their displeasure all they like but there’s a sense that the Red Giants may risk getting swept away by those, such as JDT, that are setting the benchmark for how professional clubs should be run in Malaysia.
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