With Kurniawan’s philosophy of free-flowing and aggressive football and the fighting spirit of his young players, the newly-promoted Rhinos will certainly pose a threat to the other 11 teams in the fray.
The legendary Indonesian striker, who took over the team almost two weeks ago, was impressed with the local players as they were quick to grasp his tactics.
And with the players’ ‘warrior-like’ qualities during training, he is optimistic his charges would replicate that in the new season which kicks off on Feb 28.
“I’m happy with the commitment shown by the players. Usually, when a new coach comes in, it takes a while for them to adapt but it is totally different here in Sabah,” said Kurniawan, who scored 33 goals in 59 games for Indonesia from 1995 to 2005.
“After winning the Premier League last year, the management want them to continue that momentum by making an impact in the big league. I like the vibe in Kota Kinabalu because the players in our roster are fighters.
“They have a never-say-die attitude and that augurs well for my philosophy of fast-paced attacking and aggressive football. Also, it is good to work with youngsters because we can develop and make them better.”
Kurniawan is no stranger to working with young players as he assisted Indra Sjafri in the Indonesian Under-23 set up last year.
He will certainly relish working with the likes of Rawilson Batuil, Azzizan Nordin, Ariusdius Jais, Evan Wensley, Wenceslaus and Stanley Sulong who are all below 25.
According to the former Swiss club FC Luzern striker, he held talks with the Sabah FA a few months ago but only signed with them after the SEA Games.
“I presented my ideas to the management when I was doing my AFC pro-diploma course in Kuala Lumpur.
“This is my first time being a head coach, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all would be fine.”
Kurniawan added that they have only signed two players – leftback Zubir Azmi (Pahang) and goalkeeper Wan Azraie Wan Teh (Terengganu) – thus far but will sign on three foreigners by next week.He hinted that two will be from South America while Sabah are still on the hunt to fill the Asean quota.
“We were on the verge of signing my compatriot Saddil Ramdani (formerly Pahang player) but after the SEA Games he told me that he won’t be joining as some European teams are interested in him.
“As for other Indonesian players, it is tough to get them because they have already signed long-term deals with their clubs.”