THE new Malaysian football season is barely a month old and already some Super League and Premier League coaches are feeling the pressure.
And for every manager currently in a job, there are many more who are waiting in the wings, hoping for that next opportunity.
One of them is former Sabah head coach Gary Phillips, who is our guest pundit on Astro SuperSport for our English Premier League coverage this weekend.
During an 18-month spell in East Malaysia, the 50-year-old Australian had a taste of just how fickle professional football can be.
He was hailed as a hero as Sabah was promoted to the Super League in his first season in charge after five years wallowing in the Premier League. But after a slow start to the following season, Phillips was shown the door midway through the campaign.
After returning to Australia, he was technical director for Football Queensland and a TV commentator and analyst for Fox Sports Australia. But he also found time to work as a part-time lifeguard in his hometown of Sawtell, north of Sydney.
A multi-talented sportsman, Phillips was once a champion junior surfer, and is an accomplished swimmer.
But as much as he was happy to save floundering tourists from the big waves off the New South Wales coast, a different kind of rescue mission at a Malaysian club would give him a greater sense of satisfaction.
“I miss everything about Asian culture but the best thing about being here is experiencing football as the number-one sport in the country,” Phillips said.
“I’ll never forget that intense yet magical feeling of winning promotion in the last game of the season with Sabah back in 2010. I’d love the chance to show what I could do again for another club here.”
Phillips was tapped for the Sabah job by Rhinos’ legend Scott Ollerenshaw, the ex-Socceroo striker and sometime SuperSport pundit who’s been a close friend since they were team-mates at the Sydney Olympic club in the 1990s.
As a player, Phillips won championships with both Sydney Olympic and the Brisbane Strikers. A compact central midfielder, he was considered one of the best players not to represent his country at senior level, although he did wear Australia’s colours in junior internationals.
Just five years after retiring, Phillips coached Sydney Olympic to the 2002 National Soccer League (NSL) title. But he had always had a fascination for Asia since a playing spell in the Hong Kong league in the 1990s.
In 2004, he coached Da Nang FC in the Vietnamese league. A few years later, he worked in coach education at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Kuala Lumpur before the Sabah position came up for grabs.
This season has seen an influx of Australian coaches with the likes of Mehmet Durakovic, Steve Darby, Ron Smith and David Mitchell taking charge of Malaysian sides. And Phillips reckons there is room for more.
“Even with a smaller population than Malaysia and in a multi-football code environment, Australia has qualified for the last three World Cups and will host the 2015 AFC Asian Cup,” he said.
“I think many people underestimate just how good our coaches and player development programmes are. Would I help a club in Malaysia again? Definitely!”
So, Malaysian football bosses take note: ‘Captain’ Phillips is more than willing to take the helm of a club in need once again. And he promises not to steer your ‘ship’ into uncharted waters or anywhere near unfriendly Somalian pirates!