Merz makes surprise return

Moroccan maverick Merzagua Abderrazak.

Moroccan maverick Merzagua Abderrazak.

PENANG football legend Merzagua Abderrazzak is returning to the Malaysian football scene next season.

But the Moroccan, who was a hit with the supporters both as a Penang player and later as a coach, will not be rejoining the state team.

Instead, Merzagua will take up the position of chief coach with the FAM Cup side Sungai Ara Football Club.

Merzagua was a fan favourite in Penang during his playing days in the 90s, when he led the islanders to the top flight league title. He returned in 2013 to coach the state team, and led the Panthers to the FAM Cup title and promotion to the Premier League in his first season in charge.

However, the Football Association of Penang (FAP) had to let the Moroccan go after the 2013 season as it was found that he did not possess the coaching qualifications required to lead a team in the Malaysian league.

Brief Caption: Merzagua Abdul Razak coaching Penang Panthers team at USM. Gary Chen/The Star. 3 April 2013. 
[ Filepic of Merzagua coaching the Penang Panthers team at the USM field in April last year.]

Two months ago, the Moroccan claimed that he had acquired the necessary coaching licences and was keen on returning to coach the state team in 2015. However, FAP are believed to be looking at other options to replace K. Devan as their coach for next season.

Sungai Ara FC team manager Zainol Abidin Ahmad described Merzagua’s signing as a coup for the Penang island-based club side.

“Merzagua has signed with Sungai Ara FC on a one-year contract, with the option of extension if we are happy with his work. It is a big boost for a club of our size to get a renowned name as Merzagua on board for our FAM Cup campaign next year.

“Besides his track record of winning the FAM Cup as Penang coach, another main reason for hiring him is to boost the crowd support. Merzagua has a huge following in Penang, and I hope this can be translated into an increased number of supporters for Sungai Ara.

“Merzagua has provided us his coaching licences, which we have submitted to FAM (Football Association of Malaysia). I have already arranged his flight tickets and if everything goes as planned, he will arrive in Penang this Friday,” said Zainol.

Sungai Ara FC will be competing in their second season in the third-tier FAM Cup competition next year. In their debut this year, Sungai Ara finished 11th out of 12 teams, winning just three out of their 22 league matches. We don’t want to be over-confident just because Merzagua’s on board. The initial target is to get a top four finish in the league, and anything better than that will be considered a bonus.

“We have already selected 30 players for our initial squad, and as the chief coach, Merzagua will have the authority to pick his final squad. Only half of the 30-man squad are Sungai Ara players retained from the 2014 campaign. The rest are experienced hands who have featured for the Penang state, PBAPP FC or USM FC teams in previous seasons,” added Zainol.

Sungai Ara are also planning to host their home matches at the City Stadium in 2015. This year, they played at the USM Stadium.

“We have applied to play our home games at the City Stadium, and are still awaiting a reply from the authorities. The City Stadium was initially planned to undergo renovation in early 2015, but I was told that the constructions had to be postponed. Hopefully, we will get the green light to join Penang and PBAPP FC in hosting our games there,” he said.