saturday, SEPTEMBER 13, 2014 - The Malay mail ICONS FROM THE PAST
by tony Mariadass
Zainal and his son Zaiza show off the Malaysia Cup after Pahang beat Kelantan 1-0.
ZAINAL ABIDIN HASSAN has seen it all.
He started his career during the glorious football years of 1980s, experienced Malaysia’s decline and is now trying to resurrect the ailing state of the game.
But Zainal, who turns 52 on November 9, is still searching for the magic formula to see Malaysian football fl y high again.
Zainal was a feared striker for Malaysia
After the late Datuk Mokhtar Dahari, Zainal is the most popular footballer of the 1980s and that he is still actively involved speaks of his passion for the game.
Zainal is a household name having played mostly for Selangor and Pahang alternately from 1980 to 1999.
In the end, the Selangor-born lad now has more Pahang blood than Selangor, having gone on to coach and take managerial duties with the east coast giants.
Been there, done that
“I am blessed to have experienced the good, bad and ugly side of Malaysian football. But it is the good which supersedes the rest,” said Zainal Abidin, who is back as Pahang coach and hoping to defend the Malaysia Cup title.
“Football has been my life and it will be till I die. I am still pasasionate as the game has been part of me since I was a kid. “However, I would like to do more because I believe we can still regain our past glories.”
Looking for a successful formula Zainal admitted he is at a lost for a successful formula as Malaysia are still struggling to make a mark when everything — from the benefits accorded, facilities available and professional approach — are available.
“In reality, Malaysian football should be among the top,” said Zainal. “We used to be kingpins when we were amateurs. But now as professionals when everything is systematic, we fail to get the desired results.
“One of the setbacks is we do not have the number of quality players we used to have.
“Those days we easily had 15 to 16 players vying for the first XI. Many players on the bench were all first XI materials. “Today we do have quality players, but in smaller numbers.”
Players lack drive
Zainal pinned it down to the players, many of whom do not strive to be top players.
“Today we have academies and development programmes all over the country. Those days it was players coming through from schools.”
Zainal celebrates winning the 1986 Malaysia Cup final.
Zainal started playing for Selangor in 1980 when he was just 17. In his first stint for the Red Giants, he scored 21 goals in 41 competitive matches before he moved to Pahang in 1983.
It was here the lanky rightback was converted into a striker by former Pahang coach, the late Frank Lord.
The rest is history as Zainal became one of the region’s top strikers. He scored 13 goals and helped Pahang capture the Malaysia Cup for the first time that year by defeating 3–2.
“I was lucky to be coached from a very young age by the legendary Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat. That was where I acquired the basics and skills.
“When I played for school (SM Maxwell), I played as a striker because of my built.
But when I played in Selangor, I played as a defender, following in the footsteps of my brother, Khalid,” said Zainal who has another older brother, Hanifah, who also played for the state.
“But when I moved to Pahang in 1983, Lord felt I was better as a striker.
“That was the best thing that happened the 1986 Golden Boot with 20 goals.
Zainal’s prowess did not go unnoticed and he represented Malaysia at the SEA Games and many other international tournaments.
He finished with 138 international caps plus a further 42 from friendlies for a grand total of 180 appearances for Malaysia.
Zainal is also remembered for winning the SEA Games gold for the first time in 1989 under English coach Trevor Hartley.
Zainal also featured for Malaysia in the inaugural AFF Cup (then called the Tiger Cup) in 1996, leading the Malaysia to the final before losing to Thailand 1–0. He also emerged as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player at the age of 35.
He soon retired from international football although he returned for a final hurrah with Selangor in 1997. He played for them until retirement in 1999.
He then swapped his football boots for futsal shoes to help the then fl edgling Malaysia futsal team, although he would then take up managerial and coaching positions with several teams such as the Under-17 national team and Shahzan Muda.
He was reunited with his old strike partner Dollah Salleh at Pahang in 2011, with Dollah as the head coach and him as the manager.
Their partnership, as usual, was dynamic and Pahang won the Malaysia Cup last season — their first in 21 years. While Dollah left to coach fi rst Police and now the national team, Zainal remained with Pahang as coach.
The Zainal factor in Pahang has been around for almost 25 years and he could well be around for some time more to come as his oldest son, Zaiza, 28, is a member of the Pahang team.
While he has won many honours for Pahang and Selangor, it is the Midas touch for Malaysian football that Zainal is looking for.