SEREMBAN: Negri Sembilan's K. Devan bore the brunt of some jokes when he attended a pre-season briefing for M-League coaches at the Wisma FAM in Kelana Jaya.
The 42-year-old senior health inspector was the rookie among the local and foreign coaches of respective senior teams in the competition.
Some of the coaches made fun of him and one said: “Look the coach of the Real Madrid of Malaysia.”
He was referring to the star-studded cast, who Negri had acquired this season. Negri are down in Premier II and Devan had taken over the hot seat following successes with the state's President's Cup (Under-21) team who won the tournament for two consecutive years from 2001.
His other experience was handling club side NS Chempaka, who had moved up from the ranks to reach Premier I but withdrew this season because of financial problems.
No one gave him a chance to lead Negri to win honours in senior team national football, especially when the much more experienced ones before him, including M. Karathu and Irfan Bakti, had failed.
“Everyone I met looked at me with as a sorry sight. They wondered how a young coach like me would cope with senior players,” said Devan.
“The look on their faces said it all but I was sincere and took control of the team. I thank the players for proving everyone wrong.”
He said there was no secret in his running of the team, who also had young and former internationals as well.
“You need man-management skills to handle these professionals. Everyone has their strength and weakness and it is important to handle them fairly,” said Devan.
Another rookie coach, Mohamed Zaki Sheikh Ahmad, also beat the odds in 2000 to take a young set of players to their first Malaysia Cup final since 1948. But the team was beaten 0-2 by Perak.
Zaki did not last long and was replaced at the halfway mark the following season following the team's dismal run.
Negri were eventually relegated to Premier II and the FA sacked almost all the first-team players.
For this season, the team comprise mostly of seasoned campaigners, including Azman Adnan, B. Rajanikandh, Khairul Anuar Baharom, Azrul Amri Burhan, Azlisham Ibrahim, Lim Chan Yew, Anuar Jusoh, Rosli Omar and Mohamed Aiman Wong.
Devan admitted that having to handle a star-studded cast was no easy task but he was glad that everyone in the team was willing to work very hard.
Several of the young guns, including K. Rajan, Morhafiz Zamani Misbah, Saiful Sabtu and Yosri Derma Raju, who are with the pre-Olympic squad, have also made their presence felt.
The foreign players, Argentine Luciano Osmar Gonzalez and Brazilian Everson Martinelli, who scored the golden goal which gave Negri a 2-1 win over Perlis in the FA Cup final at the Perak Stadium in Ipoh on Saturday, have also blended in well with the team.
Negri's previous Cup win was in 1948 in the HMS Malaya Cup. Then they edged Selangor 2-1 in the final. Their other senior team achievement was winning the Division Two title in 1990.