The Pentagon IV: Malaysian Football* Monster
*Yes, I couldn’t think of a word for football that starts with M. Sorry.
Before we get underway with season four, props to my striker George Attram for not only banging in a whopping 56 goals in the second season at Terengganu but also replying to my DM on Instagram. What a guy!
Back in the game world I had an interesting transfer window. Johor decided to break the Malaysian transfer record (£75,000 if you were wondering) for my goalkeeper and there goes Esteban Barreto. The Colombian keeper hadn’t been all that good, and I was debating my options there, so Johor stole a player I probably wasn’t going to sign to a longer contract for a national record. Way to go, jackasses. I immediately replaced him with a South African keeper called Lebogang Nthene. No, I don’t know how to pronounce that. I have therefore nicknamed him “The Gang”. The signing is the first time I’ve ever seen an A- rating from the fans. They’re normally like “C-, whatever”. He’s actually a little on the short side but this is Malaysia, no one will notice.
The bigger question remains Malaysia in general. With the league not having the clout to bring in players good enough to win the Asian Champion’s League I’m left wondering about a move elsewhere. I tried Pohang Steelers, but they’re not in the top division in South Korea and they rejected my application because I’ve never got a team promoted. I won the fucking league, who cares about promotion?
More George Attram antics in pre-season as he scores 10 goals in a game. TEN. I only saw the result, but I legitimately laughed out loud.
Anyway, onto the serious business. We can still win this year’s Asian Champion’s League. It is doable (albeit very unlikely) and we kick off matters with a 3-1 win in Japan against Yokohama F Marinos. Ahmad pillages the land of the rising sun. Stealing the ball off their centre back for 1-0 and generally being a pest. The second leg was far easier with Terengganu racing into a 3-0 lead after 22 minutes. One of the goals, they literally passed the ball to George Attram inside the six-yard box. Disaster for Yokohama. We coast past them in the end. 6-1 on aggregate. We’re in the QUARTER FINALS of the Champion’s League.
We are now, however, at the stage where every team in the competition is miles better than us. Predominantly from powerhouse middle eastern leagues, China and Korea. We’re minnows in a shark tank now. In the quarters we will play Incheon United, who are the fifth best team in South Korea according to the pre-season preview. They’re not as good as Seoul so there is that. It is a big step up from the teams we’ve played, bar Seoul, and it’s going to be tough. If we win that…we get Seoul again, or Shanghai Port if Seoul lose to them in the other quarter. Shanghai Port have former Chelsea man Oscar pulling the strings. All these teams are way better than us.
I have a beef here. We’re playing away first, in South Korea, and apparently, we have time to train in the morning before travelling to Korea for the game in an afternoon. Unless I do the match preview during the flight, that isn’t happening. It would take hours just to get to an airport that could take you to Korea. I would like a little more realism from Football Manager here.
Anyway, the day is upon us. In the quarter final draw the home teams are all from Saudi Arabia and South Korea. The away teams; two from Qatar, Shanghai Port and us. We are from, by far, the smallest league of all the teams left. Incheon don’t blow us away but a fella called Lee Myung-Joo scores two unstoppable free kicks. Top bins both of them. It’s a dramatic back and forth game that finishes 3-2 to Incheon. We’ve given ourselves a chance at home to go through and we had more xG. Those two brilliant free kicks were the difference. As the second leg approaches Ilja Kirsh goes down with a shoulder injury. A key player missing. The last thing I wanted.
This is how close we were to a semi-final. Ahead early in the second half, after being battered for 45 minutes to be fair. Only for a long straight ball to get missed by Denis Chembezi and Hernandes to dump us out 4-3. We had the away goal advantage before that went in. We would have been through. Pain. It’s doubly painful because that feels like the ceiling for Terengganu. An unbelievable run but there are a tonne of better teams in Asia. Malaysia’s league simply isn’t strong enough.
If I’m searching for positives, the run has shown me that the Asian Champion’s League is entirely winnable if you’re in the right league. China or South Korea would give me a shot at this thing. As much as I’d love to hang around Malaysia and try to win it from here, I think this just shows the gulf between us and the better leagues. It’s been a great learning experience at Terengganu. Now, I’m faced with the choice of where to go next.
Originally my thinking was ‘stick to Asia’ and stay here until the Champion’s League is won but the more I think about it, the more I figure we just need to keep improving reputation until we can get a better job. A club that can win a continental competition. Terengganu has a *½ reputation, as do I. So, I’m looking at clubs with ** or **½ reputations. Teams in the third division of major countries or lesser teams in lesser leagues. Mostly in Europe, as there are more jobs there. I apply for Racing Santander’s B team, 1860 München, Lokomotiv Plovdiv and Maccabi Netanya.
As I’m debating what my next step is, Terengganu finally fund me a goddamn coaching course! So, I’m staying put until I’ve got my National B. It is about goddamn time guys.
Meanwhile in the Asian Champion’s League Seoul FC, my group stage nemesis, make the final only to lose 2-0 to Al-Duhail from Qatar. They’re managed by Hernan Crespo! Their wage budget is £641,000. Ours is £18,000. If that doesn’t demonstrate the disparity, then nothing will. We’re a non-league team, effectively, battling Premier League giants.
How’s the league going I hear you ask?
Pretty good, to be honest. We’re drawn a couple of games, but we’ve hammered everyone else. Massive xG’s as far as the eye can see. This peaked with a 1-0 win against Johor in the Piala FA Malaysia, wrapping up our only missing domestic honour AND finally recording a final victory over the old enemy.
It means we’ve finally unlocked this bad boy. This also takes me above Toni Netto and into third place in the Malaysian Hall of Fame, trailing only Bojan Hodak and current Johor boss Hector Bidoglio. Bad news though; Ilja Kirsh is officially leaving us at the end of the season to sign for Slovakian team Zlate Moravce. The manager of Moravce has a Continental B licence. I can’t compare with that level of knowledge. I have no doubt I’ll find some other powerhouse central defender to take Ilja’s place, but it feels like we can never retain good players.
Just as I’m getting all emotional about this being ‘the end’ of me at Terengganu, this guy drops into my lap on a free. Bandiougou Diallo. He has frankly unbelievable attributes for a player in this league. Who is the best player in the league? Bandiougou Diallo is the best player in this league. I don’t think it’s particularly close either. I feel bad for George Attram, who despite scoring 56 goals last season, is nowhere near that good at football. Diallo played one game while on trial before his contract came through and he scored 3 goals and had 4 key passes. If the other players were as good as him, he would have had four assists.
Diallo proves to be the driving force behind this win against Johor, one that leaves us 17 points ahead of them with five games left. For those who know The Maths, Johor can’t win the league anymore. Negeri and Selangor can both still catch us but just barely. This was the last game I was worried about in the Invincible season as well. With Diallo, he can take corners, which puts him above everyone else I’ve had up front. He doesn’t just score, he creates. We’ve scored so many goals from corners since he signed. He has five assists in two games.
And here it is…the National B licence in the fucking bag. Finally. After three years. I immediately ask to do National A and THEY ONLY ACCEPT. Finally, it’s coming together guys. 3 years of grafting and my reputation is flying high.
Up next is Sabah. They’re bottom of the league. If we better Negeri’s result we win the league.
The sharp eyed among you may have noticed we just about scraped a draw with the team bottom of the league. Luckily for us, Negeri lost their game. Back-to-back titles! We also pop the “Do the Double” achievement for winning both league and main cup in the same season.
With the season coming to a close, we get our Champion’s League draw.
As you can see, it’s a tough one. Suwon Bluewings represent South Korea and are particularly good. Kashima Antlers, of Japan, are also strong. Finally, Binh Duong are from Vietnam and are a better fourth team than the Bangladeshi whipping boys from last year. Suwon Bluewings are the best team in the group by a mile though. They have a striker called Lee Dong-Jun who used to be on the books at Hertha Berlin. If he played in Malaysia, he’d break Pele’s goalscoring records. The way the groups work, as I discovered last year, is that it’s regional and out of the five east Asia groups, three best runner up teams go through. So, if we finish top two we have a 3/5 chance of progressing to the knockout stages.
We have an elephant in the room, which is my contract. It expires at the end of November. I’m conscious the point at which I can no longer achieve anything at Terengganu is rapidly approaching. Should I just leave outright so I’m totally focused on the job hunt? It’s crossed my mind. When the shoe was on the other foot, and I hadn’t won two titles, Terengganu were very slow to offer a new deal and continually refused my coaching badges for 3 years.
If there’s ever a game to make me reconsider that it’s this one. A dramatic 2-1 win away in Korea against Suwon Bluewings. It wasn’t particularly easy but the early 2-0 lead gave us something to protect. We should not be winning games like that but if we continue to do so, we could, in theory, win the Champion’s League. This result kinda proves it is possible. I got an achievement here too; “Top Form”. That’s 30 matches unbeaten.
And I’ve finally done an invincible season! I’ve literally not had an invincible season since I was playing as Everton on FM back in circa 2001. That was a mega long term save. Invincible seasons are pretty rare (unless you play as PSG, natch). Rather irritatingly, the achievement didn’t pop. Sadness. Speaking of irritating. George Attram gets himself sent off 20 minutes into a key game with Kashima, which we end up losing, and then we lose the home game too after I accidentally continue into the game without changing 2 players who’d played in the domestic cup competition I don’t give a fuck about. We still outplayed Kashima but lost 1-0. That leaves us against Suwon in the final group game needing to win, against the best team in the group, to stand any chance of qualifying for the knock outs.
If this is the end here in Malaysia, I’m going to miss some of the wacky results and whatnot. Away quarter final first leg against Pahang? Half the team away on International duty? No worries, 8-3. Meanwhile the other game is a rather mundane 4-4 draw. Diallo, by the way, scored four and got 2 assists and 12 key passes. The man is on another plane of existence. In the second game he chilled out a bit and only scored two with one assist and 15 key passes. FIFTEEN. As the season concludes, I’m suddenly aware that my contract expires before the Piala Malaysia finishes and we’re in the final. Having never let my contract expire before, I didn’t know what happened. It turns out, they just let you stay.
The board, bringing me a contract for the sixth time this season.
My biggest problem with Terengganu remains this; I’ve reached the ceiling here. I could stay and keep winning trophies, but will it improve my reputation? Will they ever be good enough to win the Asian Champion’s League? It needs an incredible performance to get out of the groups, then four rounds of knockouts. I’m asking for five miracles in one season.
One of the supporters requests is always “get the better of Perak” and we’ve never, ever played them. Until my final game. The Piala Malaysia final. 5-0. Fans happy. Treble completed.
Not a bad farewell to Malaysia. Won literally everything bar the Champions League. 19 points clear in the league. Invincible season.
Dumped Johor into fourth. Top of the Malaysian Hall of Fame! Syafiq Ahmad scored 47 goals, even dwarfing George Attram, who had 32. Diallo, after signing, had 17 goals and 17 assists in 18 starts. Ilja Kirsh leaves Terengganu with 12 goals in his final season. He’s off to the Fortuna Liga, Slovakia, to play for Zlate Moravce. Hmm, Slovakia. I wonder.
NEXT: With our time at Terengganu over it’s time to look for somewhere new. I’m no closer to winning a Continental Cup but this was only our first job. To get into Continental competition at all must be considered a success. Do I stay in Asia and keep trying to win that? Or just go somewhere with a higher ceiling and keep trying to improve? Until next time…
FLY HIGH MIGHTY TURTLES!
Asian Champions League: Quarter Finals
African Champions League: N/A
UEFA Champions League: N/A
North American Champions League: N/A
Copa Libertadores: N/A