December 8, 2023

None Of Them Knew They Were Robots

5 min read

Down the years, there have been some memorable encounters between Negri and Kelantan football associations. However, the last clash could only be significant in terms of its insignificance. Will be remembered as the fight over who gets the last spot to compete in Malaysia Cup. And like pouring salt water to an open wound, comes after both teams have been asked to pack their bags and head south to the Premier League. Gone are the days when Negri & Kelantan fans would block their calendar for end of the year to ensure that they would not miss the trip to Bukit Jalil or Shah Alam. When Negri fans would seriously complain about having to make too frequent trips to Finals. And to think those days were just about 9 years ago.

So what went wrong for Negri this season? Money? Attitude? Coach? Popia too delicious? Dortmund copying our kit? Pick one. All of the above is also a choice.

Maybe it’s best to run through on what went right before we start dwelling on what went wrong,
Okay, let’s go through the items on the checklist that’s been checked out:
Decent pre-season. Check.
Personnel continuity i.e. manager, coach, players, trainers. Check.
Good new recruits. Check.
Financial stability. Check.
Motivation. Unless moving up into Super League is not motivating enough then, Check.
Appeared we had everything in place and in order.
So what did go wrong?

There’s a gazillion reasons but let’s just pick three. Three seems to be a nice figure in football. All teams want the three points. Podium too normally fits three.

First, a wobbly foundation.
We built a Super League team around an unstable base. The base team we had was at best decent but unfortunately not superb. Not enough muscle to tackle the hard knocks of the Super League. If we had a superb team, we would have strolled through the Premier League. Or at least finished 2nd. But we went into the Super League via 5th place. Yes, 5th. So no, we did not have a terrific base to build on. We brought in new players in hope they can enhance the squad. Turned out to be just that. Hope.

There should be no questions on players commitment and desire to do well. Yet, those can easily slowly diminish or completely evaporate after 5 or 6 bad results. And 6 games in the Malaysian League means you’ve already hit the quarter mark. Sufficient cause to start flirting with the panic button.
Negri needed more than just enhancement. Negri needed an overhaul. But then again come to think of it, that is what we’ve been doing for the past five years.

Second, import players.
Maybe there’s a curse of some sort on Negri’s imports. There’s little doubt that most of the imports signed are quality players, particularly those signed in the last 3 years. Heck, couple of them, after the short stint with Negri, went on with other teams and proved just that. Deservingly rubbing their successful exploits onto Negri’s face. So how come they couldn’t emulate that with Negri?
Well for one, injuries. On too many occasions have our imports been unavailable for games through injuries. Too long periods missing. Not able to be selected for countless crucial matches. Regan, Bruno, Behe, Madhu, Velez, Renars, just to name a few. Nevertheless, there were some that looked like they couldn’t even catch the flu like Forkey and Tuck.

True that one player does not make a team but without those key players during games, it feels like driving from KL to Seremban on the North South highway on 3 normal tyres and 1 spare tyre on your car. We just couldn’t rev up the car even to normal speed.

The obvious question would only be, why is that? Food? Training sessions? Fitness regime? Recovery period too short? Pitch to hard? Schedule too tight?

If it’s none of the above, then it must be the curse.

Third, the last but could be the most impactful, the dropping of Madhu from the squad.
During pre-season friendlies, Madhu was simply the MOTM for Negri in most of the games. Solid, calm and composed, he brought much needed assurance to the backline. The pairing of him and Rodes would be a nightmare for opposing teams. But through divine intervention, Prak Mony Udom was brought in at the 11th hour. Initial thought was that this could be a masterstroke as Negri did look to be in need of more attacking firepower. Udom’s credentials were top notch for an Asean quota player befitting the requirement. But instead of a nightmare for the opposing teams, it were Negri fans who were waking up at night screaming “No more!, No more!”.

That move totally changed the dynamics of the squad. As coach, you’ve gotta play him coz….ummm he’s an import. But since he plays in midfield then it meant re-figuring out the best formation and players to accommodate. Unfortunately, Negri never managed to find our best formation or our best team. We couldn’t even find our best back four. Reshuffling was the theme of the Negri squad. Even the coach was not spared. So struggle Negri did throughout the season. Searching for something that never wanted to be found.

Then there’s the tactic and coach. Oh, that’ll be more than three reasons.
So that’s it, three chosen reasons. By no means the only reasons but more like the tip of the problematic iceberg that is Negri.

All things considered, have we really been that poor this season? Well, if the results of the 1st round matches in the Malaysia Cup are anything to go by, then the answer is a resounding YES.

Well, what do we have to look forward to? The Challenge Cup, of course. Not much is known about the Cup and how it will be accepted. But what we probably do know is why it’s called the Challenge Cup. It’s going to be a challenge to lift the morale of the players to play for the Cup. It’s going to be a challenge to pull the fans to fill up the stadiums on weekday game days. And it’s definitely going to be a challenge for me to make my way from out of state to Paroi to watch a match on weekday where the players are not motivated and playing inside an empty stadium.
But a Cup is still a Cup. And we definitely could do with one this season.
Challenge Cup it is then! Come On Negri!!!

Faizal Jabar,
Paroi Jaya


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