FOR THE LOVE OF PAHANG: Tengku Abdul Rahman speaks passionately about the development of football in his state — Pix: RAZAK GHAZALI
TENGKU Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah, Pahang FA president for the last 10 years, saw his dream come true when the state won the Malaysia Cup last week after 21 years. It has not been been an easy path to glory, but the football passionate prince never gave up hope. In an exclusive interview, Tengku Abdul Rahman tells Mailsport's TONY MARIADASS what's next after this victory.
Mailsport: Congratulations on this long awaited triumph. Talk us through your journey and the Malaysia Cup success after 21 years?
Tengku Abdul Rahman: It has been a long and winding road. When I was asked to act as president of Pahang FA in 2003 by the Tengku Mahkota, it was supposed to be for a year. Next thing I knew, I was asked to stay and it has been 10 years now. But I must say that it is a journey I have thoroughly enjoyed despite the ups and downs. We had a good team in the 90s, but from 2000 onwards, we went through a rocky patch. That was when I took over, and decided that we should focus more on local players. It was then that we formed the Shahzan Muda Football (13 years ago) to develop young talent and give them exposure through the FAM Cup.
This comes with commitment and patience over the years. What we are experiencing now are the fruits of that labour. Today, the majority of the players from Shahzan have graduated to the senior team although the youth team are still in existence and continue to produce players. When we were demoted to the Premier League in 2011, that was a crucial stage for us. We had to come back to the Super League the very next year, or things would have really gone bad for us. Thank god, we returned but by the skin of our teeth when we booked our Super League berth, beating Kedah on penalty kicks in the qualifier.
Mailsport: What were the main challenges that you faced?
TAR: It was a dramatic season for us from the time we qualified for Super League. We started the season with two bad foreign signings and only managed to find our footing after the April window when we changed our foreign players. At the rate things were going, I was hoping that we would survive the season. But things picked up and we finished fifth in the league and lost in the FA Cup semifinals. Just as we were looking forward to a good outing in the Malaysia Cup competition, we ran into problems and again we made the knockout stage on a better goal difference. From then on, we knew it was now or never. The players were fired up and despite the odds stacked against us, we showed that we were more hungrier and passionate about winning the Malaysia Cup trophy and we were duly rewarded. Mind you, Pahang are a low — budget team — we spent about a quarter of the highest spenders in the league.
Mailsport: Did you ever think that 2013 would be the year for Pahang to win the Malaysia Cup?
TAR: Seriously, after what we went through this season, I did not. But we had waited 21 years to win the Malaysia Cup and that is a long time. I certainly do not want to wait another 21 years. I was a young man when Pahang last won in 1992 and I have waited this long for this to happen again. I hope we will not have to wait that long again (for another trophy) as I am not getting any younger. We will do everything possible to cash in on the success to make things happen for Pahang more regularly. But despite the wait, we had won the Super League title in 2004 and the FA Cup in 2006. The Malaysia Cup now completes the three titles in Malaysian football during my tenure.
But this season would not be what it was if not for the fans. They made it happen for us. The fans constitute 75% of our success, the players 24% and 1% from the administration and management of the team. I salute the fans. Many a time I have sat with the fans to cheer the team. They were there for us in good times and bad times. They made it happen for us.
Mailsport: Now that the Malaysia Cup has returned after 21 years, what next?
TAR: Everyone knows that winning a trophy is easier than defending it. All teams will be coming at us with guns blazing. Every match is going to be like a cup final. But I believe that the fans will understand that and will be behind us all the way as we try to do our best and bring more honours. However, I will not do anything different from all those years.
We will still be a low budget team striving on the passion for success. Of course, we will have to strengthen the team and look for both local and foreign players who can add depth, experience and strength. But these players will first have to gel with the team. We want players who share our vision and passion. A majority of the players have signed to stay with us, thus the core of the team will be the same. As for coach Dollah Salleh, give me a week and we will have everything sorted out. I wish to respect the wishes of all and everyone is free to make their own decision with my full blessings.
We will continue to focus on the Shahzan team as our feeder squad. But this time around, I intend to move further into grassroots development and may even hire a foreign coach to handle the development and talent scouting programme. I believe Pahang have an abundance of talent and with a programme in place, we should see a steady flow of talent coming through. I also intend to ensure that local and inter-district leagues are in place. We are certainly not going to rest on our laurels, but use our success to move forward and put Pahang football among the frontrunners.
Mailsport: Having done so much for Pahang, would you be interested to help at the national level?
TAR: I"ll just stay with Pahang. Of course, I care about national football and already doing my part by ensuring Pahang can give a wider base for selection for the national team and unearth fresh talent. There is still a great deal more to be done in Pahang and my total dedication is to my state. I really need more time in my state because our success this year is just the beginning.