With Puskas Award winner Faiz Subri staying for the 2018 season, Penang FA head coach Zainal Abidin Hassan is targeting an immediate return to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) after the club announced that he would be retained, despite last year’s relegation.
The Panthers ended last year’s dismal campaign nine points adrift at the bottom of the MSL, but the club’s board have taken a sympathetic view of Zainal’s position.
The Malaysian football legend came into the role with the club already six points from safety just eight games into the season.
There were also problems behind the scenes that were thought to be affecting performances on the pitch, including fan protests against former club president, Zairil Khir Johari, who quit the post in October.
Having won the FA Cup twice and the Malaysia Cup once when head coach of Pahang, Zainal can point to a track record that suggests he can bring success.
As a result, the former Selangor favourite will be given the opportunity to take Penang back into the MSL from the Malaysia Premier League.
“We had a disastrous 2017 as several things outside football affected the club’s performance in the league,” Zainal said.
“We hope to make an immediate return to the Super League, but to do that, we need to finish top two in the upcoming season.
“We have a good blend of senior and junior players, and I am confident we can achieve our target.”
Apart from wonder goal-scoring winger Mohd Faiz Subri, Penang have retained Gambian attacker Sanna Nyassi.
But the squad has been weakened by the departures of several of the club’s best young players.
Malaysia under-23 striker Jafri Firdaus Chew has left for PKNS, while 20-year-old midfielder Syamer Kutty Abba and 21-year-old striker Kumaahran Sathasivam have joined champions Johor Darul Ta’zim.
Several other players have also moved on, including Brazilian defender Reinaldo Lobo, who has filed a complaint with FIFA over unpaid wages from the club.
The Panthers claimed that they weren’t aware of the problem with Reinaldo, and have promised to pay the owed salaries of all squad members, past and present.
“Penang have many players with talent, but sadly we have lost several youngsters to other teams,” Zainal added.
Zainal enjoyed an outstanding career as a free-scoring striker, winning three MSL titles with Selangor and earning 138 caps for the national team.
The 56-year-old now has a very different challenge on his hands as he tries to lift the confidence of a struggling team and lead them back to the top tier.
The Panthers lost their way at the start of the 2017 season under the disastrous reign of former Manchester United junior Ashley Westwood, who failed to win a league game before leaving in mid-March.
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