PETALING JAYA: Newly-crowned Malaysia Cup champions Pahang were viewed as “no-hopers” and “relegation material” by coach Dollah Salleh when he first took charge in 2009.
“That was my first impression of the Pahang squad. I told my assistant manager Zainal (Abidin Hassan) that from my observations ... the Elephants will go down,” said Dollah, revealing the mammoth task he faced in trying to rebuild the team.
“It wasn’t the ideal start for both of us and, true enough, Pahang were relegated two seasons later (2011).
“But we accepted the challenge to rebuild the team rather than buy success. We had to start from scratch but, with the support from the Shahzan Muda FC project squad, our patience and perseverance paid off and we were promoted to the Super League this year.”
(The Shahzan Muda FC project is the brainchild of Pahang FA president Tengku Muda Tengku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah.)
Their transformation was complete when rank-outsiders Pahang upstaged defending champions Kelantan 1-0 in the final at the Shah Alam Stadium on Sunday.
And with that the Elephants ended their 21-year wait for the Cup to return to the state.
“This is my greatest satisfaction ... taking the team out of nowhere, changing the players’ attitudes and turning them into a winning team,” said Dollah, who built his team around the Shahzan Muda FC boys.
Six of Pahang’s first team players are from Shahzan Muda. They are national striker Mohd Azamuddin Akil, flankers R. Gopinathan, R. Surendren, goalkeeper Mohd Khairul Azhan Khalid, defender Mohd Shahrizan Salleh and midfielder Mohd Hafiz Kamal.
Even substitute Mohd Fauzi Roslan, who scored the equaliser in Pahang’s 1-1 draw against Sarawak in the crucial return-leg of the semi-finals, is also a product of Shahzan Muda.
He complemented the team’s youthfulness with some much needed experience in the form of two Selangor players – Mohd Amirulhadi Zainal (midfielder) and Razman Roslan (centreback) – and added depth in the squad with two influential imports – Jamican centreback Damion Stewart and Argentine striker Matias Conti.
The success in Pahang is another great achievement for Dollah, having guided Premier League side MPPJ FC and Selangor to the Malaysia Cup titles in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
Dollah had also won the Malaysia Cup as a player with Pahang in 1992.