KUCHING: Sarawak must dominate the Malaysia Premier League next season, says Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah.
Abdul Karim challenged the team to work hard and forget last season’s disappointment that saw Sarawak being relegated after finishing the Malaysian Super League second last with 21 points.
He said all parties, especially the private sector, can play a part to help raise the standard of football in Sarawak.
The on-pitch performance and success of the state’s football team, popularly known as Bujang Senang (the Crocs), would lead to increased public support and motivate corporate bodies to join the bandwagon.
“We need to develop and breathe new life into our football industry as a whole and this cannot be achieved by government and sports bodies alone.
“We need input, support and cooperation from the fans, corporate bodies and investors, including expertise from sports and medical sciences, football academies and other relevant parties,” Abdul Karim said at the launch of the Sarawak jersey for the new season.
Sarawak’s bid to return to the top flight will be aided by the return of former national striker Bobby Gonzales, who scored 15 and 20 goals in 2011 and 2013 respectively, to fire Sarawak to promotion on both occasions.
Bobby, 33, joins winger Benedict Martin and goalkeeper Iqbal Suhaimi in returning to the Crocs, with newcomers including Serbian midfielder Nebojsa Marinkovic, South Korean defender Kim Chi-gon, Mohd Sabree Mat Abu and naturalised player Shazalee Ramlee.
This year, Sarawak will be led by Australian Ian Gillan, a former Kedah FA technical director and coach at Australian A-League outfit Perth Glory.
He will be assisted by former Sarawak players Pengiran Bala and Safri Amit, with Abdul Talib Said as goalkeeping coach.
Separately, Abdul Karim said he will look into the floodlight situation at Stadium Negeri, which forced Sarawak to play their matches in the evening last season.
He hoped the situation could be rectified soonest to enable the Crocs to play their matches at night.
“I was not informed of this matter earlier but I will look into it, as playing in the evening will lead to a drop in attendance and this will result in a loss of income for the FAS (Football Association of Sarawak).
“We hope the team can play at night again,” he told reporters.
The Crocs will sport a red and white stripe home kit this season, with blue and white for away matches.
The kit, sponsored by Lea Sports Centre together with Starsport, will feature Sarawak Batik.
Lea Sports Centre has been providing kits and football gear to the players since 1994.
The company is also involved in football development programmes with divisional football affiliates across the state at various levels.
Sarawak will kickstart its Premier League campaign at home against Pahang club side, Kuantan FA, on Feb 2.