Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gary Michael Phillips : Man On A Mission.

AsSalaamu'alaikum wrh. wbt. and a very pleasant afternoon to all,

In one of his monthly article that he wrote for, former Sabah striker, Scott Ollerenshaw reminded the Rhinos fans that "patience is a virtue" written in capital letters no less as if to highlight his point further. In all fairness, Sabah fans have been made to suffer for almost 5 years languishing in the lower echeleons of Malaysian football and to have been told by a former player they regard as a living legend that this team can go far, they would definitely take that without a moment of hesitation.
The dwindling numbers of spectators coming to Stadium Likas was indicative of the immediate downfall of a team that they know can achieve something worthy to tell the grand children again, they know that the squad still has its pride intact what with the majority of them are Sabah-born players, they obviously know all that but the question seems to be not what they know but when is this dream will be achieved.

A keen observer of the team that he played for with unprecedented verve and scoring ability that was feared during the mid to late 90s, Scott was pointing out the positives that he saw in the Liga Premier match between Sabah and Felda United in March, 2009 before boldly proclaiming that Sabah was "on the right track" to become a success story in "less than 1 year".
Wathiq Najim - then the head coach, and his assistants Burhan and Mohd Asyraff were credited with slowly but surely turning things around with improved fitness levels of the players and a tighter, more disciplined defensive backline. Scott's belief was proof enough that Sabah was a work in progress that needs that one last piece of the puzzle to complete the whole picture.

Well, fast forward a year later, Scott's prediction wasn't too far off the mark - by 4 months as a matter of fact -when Sabah finally confirmed their promotion to the Malaysian Super League in July 2010 after beating off a spirited POS Malaysia side at the MPS Stadium in Selayang with a remarkable solo strike from hotshot Mohd Farid Ideris and of course, a little help from another former Sabah player, Ong Kim Swee who managed to rally his charges, the Harimau Muda team to a victory over much fancied Selangor PKNS side.
The former Sabah midfielder even conceded his delight when told in a post match interview that he had done Sabah a very big favour. "The good times are near" indeed, but what Scott and the fans didn't know at that time was that it needed another Australian to "make the difference between winning and losing".

Gary Michael Phillips

I don't want to sound overly excited but please bear with me if my objectivity abandons me somewhere in this entry. I have never heard of Gary Michael Phillips when he was announced as the new Technical Director of Football cum Head Coach of the Sabah senior team back in December 2009, in all honesty I only got to know that Sabah FA has appointed a new coach when the Liga Premier started proper when Sabah laboured to 0-0 draw against Felda United at Stadium Likas.
It was abundantly clear that Gary has effectively instilled a sense of consistency into the team's performances and it was starting to translate on the league table. Grinding out 12 undefeated matches to prop up just behind the Liga Premier leader. This Sabah team has 'something' that I can't put my finger on quite rightly but as far as football cliches goes, I came to the conclusion that this time around the Sabah players 'wore their heart on their sleeves', that 'something' I can't be sure of watching them in previous seasons.

I did some reading and ended up with an overwhelming desire to embrace a sense of clear optimism for Sabah. I found out that Gary signed on the dotted line on the 14th of December 2009 in a brief ceremony at the Sabah FA headquarters, and straight away shared his excitement in getting started as well as bringing out the best in the 25 players that he inherited. His immediate goals and objectives are clear as he said " I hope to find the best from all the players and maximise their potential, it would very good to achieve that".
This marks another Aussie affair for Sabah FA because Gary can count his compatriots, Ronald Smith, Ken Worden and David Woodfield as his predecessors in the hot seat. The famous Sabah tiger prawns made Ken Worden fell in love with the 'Land Below The Wind', well at least gastronomically, but I'm sure Sabah pristine beaches, perfectly ruffled waves and heavenly islands will be perfect for Gary, who loves surfing.

What impressed me most is without a shadow of a doubt, his CV. He played almost 400 games for Brisbane Strikers and Sydney Olympic before calling time on his playing days and embarking on a journey as a coach that would see him get hold of his coaching credentials as an AFC A license holder. Gary's knowledge on Asian football is something that he acquires after spells at V-League side, Da Nang and also his impeccable work as manager of Project Future with the AFC which gave him the opportunity to help and nurture young emerging coaches across 47 countries in Asia.
He has tasted championship success before with his former team Sydney Olympics and the chance to work with players on a daily basis again represented itself when Scott Ollerenshaw reccomended him for the vacant post as Sabah head coach. Personally, I think Gary is the right man for the job and definitely wish him all the success that he could ever hoped for, if he's in this for the long run, it will only serve the current and ultimately the future of football in Sabah a great deal of hope and positive developments. As Stuart Pearce puts it : "with better coaches, you get better players".

As for the time being, would Sabah go on to enjoy the on-field success that the fans have been craving for ? How would Sabah fare against the other Super League teams next season ? Admittedly the jury is still out on him but on hindsight, patience is indeed a virtue, a moral trait that requires time to be of crucial essence and right now only time will tell when, - not if - Gary Phillips is going to be our best chance to help us get there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sabah Hawks? Sabah Rhinos? Sabah tatap !!!

AsSalaam wrh. wbt. dan selamat petang semua,

Saya kira 'mood' dan suasana perayaan Aidilfitri masih merangkumi segenap perjalanan hidup harian kita buat masa ini, jemputan yang ada pelawaan hadir serta persediaan untuk anjuran rumah terbuka masih perlu dipenuhi, kuih - muih raya yang berbalang bakinya serta hidangan pelbagai jenis rendang, lauk - pauk juadah berhari raya dan serba - serbi aneka jumlahnya masih perlu dihidang disaji.

Apa yang pasti, dalam suasana perayaan masih jelas terasa, pertandingan bola sepak paling berprestij negara telah pun bersepak mula pada 14 September yang lalu. Pertandingan merebut Piala Malaysia edisi ke - 83 (secara teknikalnya, bermula dengan Piala Malaya pada tahun 1921 dan Piala HMS Malaya pada tahun 1933 sebelum diberi nama baharu yang kekal sehingga kini pada tahun 1967) antara 16 pasukan dari persatuan negeri dan kelab.

Berlangsung ketika liga - liga utama bola sepak Eropah juga secara relatifnya memulakan persaingan, edisi pertandingan Piala Malaysia kali ini seperti tahun - tahun sebelumnya terpaksa bersiah dengan tarikan aksi permainan pantas Liga Perdana Barclays di England, percaturan taktikal terancang Serie A di Itali, dan La Liga di Sepanyol mempamerkan aksi kebolehan teknikal yang gah. Namun, saya tetap percaya bahawa pertandingan Piala Malaysia ada nilai sejarah yang cukup tinggi dan kemasyhurannya yang tersendiri kepada peminat bola sepak tanah air.

Tentunya fokus dan sokongan saya adalah bersama pasukan Persatuan Bola Sepak Negeri Sabah atau lebih dikenali dengan nama Sabah Hawks sejak awal tahun ini (pertukaran imej yang menimbulkan banyak persoalan, lebih - lebih lagi gelaran sebelum ini, Sabah Rhinos amat popular di kalangan peminat). Seandainya saya betul - betul berterus terang, logo Sabah Hawks yang dilancarkan oleh SAFA juga rasanya tidak sepenuhnya melambangkan kualiti dan perletakan imej yang selayaknya untuk sebuah pasukan bola sepak bertaraf profesional, saya mohon jangan salah anggap dengan teguran saya cuma sejujurnya saya merasakan jika peminat - peminat pasukan Sabah sendiri diberi peluang untuk menyumbang idea kreatif dan maklum balas tentang pembaharuan imej serta logo pasukan, saya yakin SAFA juga yang akan beruntung dan dapat memanfaatkan maklum balas yang diterima sebaik mungkin. Pasukan Sabah layak bertanding merebut Piala Malaysia kali ini sebagai pasukan yang berjaya menduduki tangga ke - 2 Liga Premier, di belakang juara Liga Premier 2010, pasukan Felda United FC.

Kedudukan selepas 3 perlawanan peringkat kumpulan seharusnya belum cukup untuk menerbitkan rasa selesa baik di kalangan peminat, apatah lagi di kalangan pemain pasukan Sabah Hawks sendiri. Keputusan seri tanpa jaringan ketika menentang pasukan Kuala Lumpur di Stadium Bola Sepak Kuala Lumpur, Cheras diikuti dengan keputusan seri 2-2 yang cukup mengecewakan dengan pasukan Terengganu di Stadium Likas. Sabah mendahului 2 gol tanpa balas dan sememangnya menguasai tempo permainan dengan baki perlawanan lebih kurang 20 minit, Azizan Bob dbolosi 2 gol dalam masa 5 minit. 3 mata kemenangan akhirnya diperolehi menentang pasukan Pahang dengan penampilan yang lebih bertenaga, corak permainan yang lebih tersusun dan sedikit perubahan semula kepada senarai barisan pemain 11 yang pertama. Sokongan peminat - peminat pasukan Sabah Hawks juga tampak meningkat dengan tahap kehadiran yang semakin ramai ke Stadium Likas ke 2 perlawanan terakhir di stadium tersebut.

Secara peribadi, saya merasakan hasil usaha ketua jurulatih merangkap pengurus pasukan, Gary Michael Phillips dan anak buahnya wajar diberi pujian kolektif. Jangan lupa, musim depan Sabah Hawks juga akan beraksi di dalam Liga Super Malaysia setelah kali terakhir membuat penampilan pada tahun 2005. Apa pun yang bakal berlaku di penghujung musim ini, Persatuan Bola Sepak Negeri Sabah atau SAFA perlu memperkemas perancangannya untuk musim hadapan dan memastikan segala perkara berkaitan kebajikan pemain, pegawai dan pengurusan pasukan diberi perhatian yang sewajarnya.

Pandangan saya, salah satu faktor utama pasukan Sabah Hawks boleh dianggap berjaya pada musim ini adalah kerana kestabilan yang berjaya diwujudkan dengan kehadiran Gary Phillips (Gary juga adalah satu - satunya jurulatih asing di dalam kancah persaingan Liga Malaysia musim ini) sebagai peneraju utama. Nantikan entri yang seterusnya untuk mengetahui pendapat saya tentang perubahan positif, perkongsian pengalaman secara efektif yang dibawa olehnya dan mengapa masa depan bola sepak Sabah boleh meningkat ke tahap yang lebih baik dengan Gary Phillips.

Masih terlalu awal untuk Sabah Hawks mencongak aksi di peringkat suku akhir nanti, tetapi tiada apa yang mustahil sekiranya semangat berpasukan dan kekentalan minda yang mula ditunjukkan oleh pemain sekarang dijadikan sebagai asas kepada setiap baki perlawanan di dalam persaingan merebut Piala Malaysia.

Sabah, Sabah tatap !!!