Relegation is the best thing that could have happen to FAS according to Sean Rubis.
Any other season of the Malaysia Super League, Sarawak would have sighed a sigh of relief for barely escaping relegation and be gearing up for the Malaysia Cup next month. Fourth from bottom out of fourteen teams would have been good enough but not this time around. Having announced at the start of the season that the MSL will be reduced to twelve teams, many Sarawak fans must have had their minds tangled in yet another conspiracy theory of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) treating Sarawak unfairly. Some fans will remember the humiliation and disrespect Sarawak suffered posing with a paper replica of the then Liga Perdana Malaysia trophy even when Sarawak won the league before their final match against Selangor.
The conspiracy theory this season could be further strengthened with FAM’s seemingly harsh decision to hand Sarawak a four home match ban for crowd troubles when it was clear to see that FAM themselves had trouble controlling the crowd during the World Cup second round second leg match against Singapore at Bukit Jalil. FAM relented and lifted the ban after only a game into the supposed four game ban however the financial damage had already been done. Layman calculations would have put the possible gate collections in a Borneo derby against Sabah at at least RM150,000 if not more.
Sarawak had a decent season by all counts. Thirty points from twenty-six games is hardly a season to shout about but they held their own as a newly promoted team against more seasoned MSL opponents. Their dedication to the cause was apparent during their last home game against PKNS, who played for a point from the first whistle. Sarawak even pushed defending and current champions, Kelantan in hopes for an improbable three points for an hour in Kota Bahru before the hosts got their opener and eventually ran out 3-1 winners with Sarawak’s Joel Epalle missing a penalty.
Ultimately, Sarawak has no one else to blame but themselves. It was the last hurdle in the game that Sarawak fell. Unimaginative and seemingly out of steam, Sarawak were spectators as Pahang booked their passage through to the final of the playoffs. Resigned to pumping up the ball from defence, Sarawak were predictable and their attacks generally locked away. Joel Epalle looked unfit and out of the game for the entire 90 minutes. Zamri Morshidi ran a lot but without any ideas. Ashri Chuchu and Azizan Saperi held positions high up the pitch with Guy Bwele and Shahrol Saperi in the middle giving Sarawak a 4-2-4 look. This gave Pahang a lot of room in midfield and Sarawak never attempted at wrestling back that area of the pitch thus exposing their back four to threat after threat. The only consolation is Sarawak’s rearguard. Ramesh Lai Ban Huat and Dzulazlan Ibrahim were more of an attacking threat down the sidelines than their higher up the pitch counterparts. Yosri Derma Raju and Shahran Abdul Samad had their nervy moments at center back but were generally solid. Saiful Amar Sudar had a similar game in goal.
The squad lacked quality in depth. K. Rajan and K. Ravindran were huge disappointments and will be a wonder if they are kept on after this season.
Coach Alberts will need a rethink at his tactics and training methods. If a team relies merely on pumping the ball up from defence and totally ignoring their two center midfielders or the fact that it’s easier to play the ball to feet than to play to head or chest, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the entire set-up. It is easy to criticize but it is folly to not see the blatant flaws. Sarawak did play some good football during the season but it always happened when Guy and Shahrol were free to pick the ball up from defence and dictate play. That did not happen against Pahang but not because Pahang suppressed them. It was because the defenders, either from their own nervousness or deliberate instructions from the bench, were happy to boot it up field.
A certain player was happy with getting his own customized boots from Coneli but he hardly made any significant impact during the season. My solemn advice to him: Focus on your own game first. He is hardly the best player in the state let alone Malaysia and why settle for Coneli when Adidas and Nike are out there. Raise your game. Take it to a higher level. He is definitely a good player for the Premier League but clearly unable to cope in the MSL. That may just summarize the mentality of the players, management and certain fans, that the world is too far from reach so why bother. Friends; Kelantan and the Malaysia national team are showing you that it can happen. Why can’t we dream the dream?
Fans should be behind the team, yes. But for goodness sake, give them something back to support. We don’t have to win every game but we don’t have to lose all the time either.
The true consolation from this season is that next season, Sarawak will be against teams more on par to their standards and be playing on Friday nights instead of Saturdays so there will be no interference when the Barclays Premier League starts in August. Always looking for the silver lining.