For the second game in a row, reserve team Selangor 2 played in the Malaysia Premier League without a foreign player.
Reserve teams who play in the same competition pyramid as their first team are always in a peculiar situation, in that they cannot be promoted even when they finish the league in a promotional zone, unless their first team is relegated.
The four reserve teams in the Malaysia Premier League are also subjected to the same ruling, but this year another change was introduced by competitions organiser Malaysian Football League (MFL); just for this season, no team will be relegated from the second tier due to the fact that Malaysia’s tiers three and lower has been abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the eight non-reserve teams in the second tier can still fight for promotion, the decision has left JDT II, Terengganu FC II, Perak II and Selangor 2 in a sort of limbo. While they previously had not needed to push for promotion, this season, the need to win matches and collect match points in order to avoid relegation has also been taken away from them. To these teams, their five remaining league matches this season are effectively mere friendly matches.
But the situation is viewed positively by Selangor reserve team head coach Michael Feichtenbeiner, who told Goal that he is glad that he is now able to focus his coaching attention more on developing young players in their set-up by handing them competitive minutes and appearances against senior-level footballers.
Playing at home against a Kelantan side which fielded two foreign players in their round six matches on Saturday, Feichtenbeiner used only Malaysian players, while squad members who have recently been knocking on their first team’s door; Mukhairi Ajmal, Harith Haikal, Anwar Ibrahim and Azrin Afiq only came on as a second half substitute. (A calculation puts the average age of Selangor 2’s starting line-up against Kelantan at 19.8 years)
A similar player selection had been good enough to help them record a 4-1 away win one week earlier, over a Kuching FA which lacked sufficient preparations due to Covid-19 complications, but against the Red Warriors, who earlier in the week had been handed a morale boost in the form of ownership change and overdue wage payment, the young side struggled somewhat. An early second-half sending off of Syazwan Salihin for a second yellow reduced them to 10 men and made things a lot harder for them, and although they attempted to continue playing attacking football, fatigue and nerves eventually forced them to drop down to contain the visitors’ onslaughts.
Predictably, they wound up committing a number of errors in their own defensive third as the game went on, but in the end, a combination of centre back Shahrul Nazeem’s commanding presence, Mokhtar Dahari Academy graduate goalkeeper Firdaus Irman’s confidence (he had earlier kept out a sixth-minute Kelantan penalty), as well as Kelantan forwards’ sheer wastefulness helped them avoid conceding, to come away with a goalless draw.
The German trainer admitted to the press after the match that his young charges were fortunate to come away with a point, but he was happy that a lot more of Selangor’s young talents were able to play in a competitive setting at the senior level.
Michael Feichtenbeiner. Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images/DFB
“Today Kelantan were the better team and they would have deserved to win. We were lucky today because the team didn’t perform the same as in the last few matches. My team learned how to defend against a tough team like Kelantan especially after John (Syazwan) was sent off. They kept organised, defendeded and maintained the momentum. If we had been totally lucky we would have scored from an Alif Haikal chance.
“We are proud if we could send some of the boys to the first team in the Super League. But the rest needs match practice also because training alone isn’t adequate, they need to play. I’ve had to sideline four, five of the boys who did well against Kuching [to accomodate Mukhairi, Harith, Anwar and Azrin]. The situation now is good for Selangor and their future young talents. I have to take a chance on who are getting match time this week and the next.
“If you ask me, it doesn’t matter where we finish the league campaign; in first, second or mid-table. We want to win every match, yes, but the ranking is not important. What’s important is that the players learn from all the matches, so that next year we can send them up to the first team,” explained the former MPPJ FC head coach.
The cancellation of national-level U-21 and U-19 competitions, President’s Cup and the Youth Cup have also allowed him access to players on their junior team rosters.
“When the junior teams were still unable to train because of the pandemic lockdown, as the club technical director I decided that the U-21 head coach, Shaifulnizam Abdul Khamis and the U-19 head coach Noor Zaidi Rohmat would join the reserve team training as additional assistant coaches. That way, they would better learn our system and football style.
“Alif Haiqal for example was playing for the President’s Cup team when he was recommended to me by Shaiful, and when he was given the chance to play, he performed well. It’s the same with Ikhwan [Hafizo] who played today, who’s the captain of the U-19 team. We always have discussions among the coaches, with the objective of finding the best players among their teams. This is our main focus,” noted the German.