MULTIMEDIA: Meet Malaysian football's super coaches

LONG before Pep Guardialo's Manchester City swept all before them last year to become the first English team to complete a domestic treble, Azraai Khor Abdullah had done the same ... in Malaysia, at least.

In fact, he had done it twice – and more than a decade ago, in 2007 and 2008.

The only coach to have equalled Azraai's feat is former Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers, who took Celtic to victory 10 years later in the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup in the 2016–17 and 2017–18 seasons.

Azraai's record has remained supreme in the M-League for the last 13 years.

The sheer number of silverware he has won, including the domestic double treble, is a testament to his prowess in the dugout.

The former international leads the trophies tally with eight pieces of silverware during his time with Kedah (2004–2009) and Negri Sembilan (2011).

His trophy haul with the Red Eagles began in 2004 when they won the Premier League in 2006 and promotion to the Super League, but what he achieved next was the pinnacle of his career.

He clinched the treble of the Super League, FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup in 2007 and did the unthinkable by repeating the treble the next season in 2008.

Azraai credited the double treble to the quality of the players at his disposal, the support from the management, and his tactical preparation.

He had the services of some of the best imports to grace the M-League – St Vincent striker Marlon James, defender Bernard Huggins and Chilean midfielder Nelson San Martin – combined with locals Victor Andrag, Ahmad Fauzi Saari and bright youngsters like Baddrol Bakhtiar, Mohd Khyril Muhymeen Zambri and Sabre Mat Abu.

"The target to win all the M-League trophies by 2015 was set by our manager Datuk Ahmad Basri Akil in 2005 after we got back into the Super League... we achieved the target just a year later and repeated it the following year," said Azraai.

"We made sure the senior team and the President's Cup team played the same style of football when I joined the team in 2004.

"Everyone understood the pattern of our play and the young President's Cuppers went on to play for the senior team.

"We also had quality imports in James, Huggins and San Martin.

"They really complemented our young talents.

"If the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) had not banned foreign players in 2009, we would have won the treble for the third time -- the team was that good at the time."

The 67-year-old coach also added that it was much harder to achieve the double treble in the M-League as most teams lacked patience with their coaches.

"Kedah's double treble is something that happened due to planning and the faith the management had in the coach ... coaching is a long term project but these days everyone wants instant success," said Azraai.

Kedah's players in jubilation after winning the FA Cup finals at the Shah Alam stadium, June 21, 2008. They won 3-2 over Selangor. GLENN GUAN/The StarKedah's players in jubilation after winning the FA Cup finals at the Shah Alam stadium, June 21, 2008. They won 3-2 over Selangor. GLENN GUAN/The Star

"We can see that a coach only lasts for a season and most of them can only focus on the main team because only winning matters.

"As I said, football needs planning and development.

"When I was with Kedah, our wage budget was low because we promoted the talented local boys from the President's Cup team.

"We achieved our double treble without a mega-budget."

While, Azraai's record is supreme – he has won eight trophies in the M-League – there are other local coaches who have stamped their mark as well.

In terms of sheer numbers of trophies, Dollah Salleh's record of eight trophies makes him the second-highest on the list.

However, his record is blighted by the fact that it does not include the top tier Super League.

The former international's stint with MPPJ saw him win the Malaysia Cup (2003) and the Premier League (2004), and he then guided Selangor to Premier League, the FA Cup and the Malaysia Cup (2005).

The Selangor team celebrates with the Malaysia Cup in 2005. Photo by A Malex Yahaya.The Selangor team celebrates with the Malaysia Cup in 2005. Photo by A Malex Yahaya.

With Pahang, he won the Malaysia Cup (2013) and the FA Cup (2018), and the Premier League again with Police (2014).

Petaling Jaya City coach K. Devan, who has won six trophies in the M-League, holds the unique record of having won the Super League three times, the most in top-flight history.

Devan won the Super League with Negri Sembilan in 2006 and twice with Selangor in 2009 and 2010.

He had won the FA Cup with the Deers in 2003 and the Red Giants in 2009.

With Kuala Muda, he won the Premier League in 2007.
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