Safiq Rahim, JDT teammates to return for Malaysia under Mario Gomez
The new Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president has hinted that Safiq Rahim, S. Kunanlan, Amirulhadi Zainal and Aidil Zafuan will return to the national fold in the wake of his appointment this weekend.
"Welcome back" was the caption on a Southern Tigers' Facebook picture with the Johor Crown Prince, also known as TMJ, posing beside the Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) quartet. They abruptly quit the national team last July, throwing Malaysia's AFF Suzuki Cup plans into chaos.
The four's imminent return would considerably strengthen the Malaysian squad, as they reunite with former JDT boss Mario Gomez who was named the new national head coach at Saturday's FAM Congress.
Safiq, Amirulhadi, Kunanlan and Aidil -- a big part of Malaysian team in recent years and mainstays with JDT this season -- had cited their retirement to give the younger players a chance.
All around the age of 30, their decision was a baffling one and forced then-national coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee to rebuild the core of his squad with less accomplished players.
Malaysia's deficiencies stood out like a sore thumb at the Suzuki Cup, and they crashed out of the group stages of the regional tournament in Myanmar last November.
The quartet's return could also spell more call ups for the other local JDT players, who have matched their foreign counterparts with some quality showings this season.
But even with the full JDT brigade on board, TMJ admitted it would hard for the national team to match the success JDT has achieved so far.
"In JDT, I am like a dictator. I put all my people there, I invest in the right places and I get the results," he said.
"It would be difficult to get the same results as JDT, because there they are all selected professionals by me. In FAM, it is a different structure and working environment.
"But I can assure you, there will be progress, there will be improvement. To do that, I have to urge change and educate my executive committee members. The media also have to help me by educating the fans.
"You have to climb on my ship and help me peddle. If everyone is on the same direction, we can see changes. So let's not waste any time and get to work."
Argentina's Gomez is likely to start work this week. He will be Malaysia's first foreign coach in more than a decade, since Hungarian Bertalan Bicksei was in charge in 2004-05.
Since then, the national team have been managed by Norizan Bakar (2005-07), B. Satiananthan (2007-08), K. Rajagobal (2009-13) Dollah Salleh (2014-15) and Ong (2014, 2015-2017).
Ong has now been reassigned to handle the national under-23 side, with German Frank Bernhardt expected to leave the national setup.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.