Southeast Asia Malaysia

Perak Staring Down the Relegation Barrel in Centenary Year

The only Malaysian side to have yet to taste relegation. That distinction was a huge part of Perak FC since the inception of the modern Malaysian top flight in 2004, with the Bos Gaurus having played in both the former incarnation of the Malaysian premier division and the current incarnation uninterrupted since 1982. However, this season Perak are staring directly at the abyss of relegation, ironically in a year they were supposed to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

Financial issues had been niggling through Perak in recent times, especially after the Bos Gaurus, like all Malaysian clubs, separated themselves from their state’s football association in line with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM)’s guidelines of club privatization. In the run-up towards the 2021 season, reports emerged that the players were not paid their salaries since November of 2020, with Perak’s football association president Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu stepping down from his position due to his inability to solve this crisis.

Despite his best efforts, Ahmad Faizal was unable to secure new sponsorships for Perak due to him being ousted out of his position as state Menteri Besar by a vote of confidence from the state assembly.

Squad-wise, Perak managed to surprisingly retain a good portion of their key players coming into the 2021 season, with the notable exits being Shahrel Fikri’s departure to Selangor FC and Thierry Chantha Bin returning to his native Cambodia with Visakha FC.

Players such as Shahrul Saad, Hafizul Hakim, Nazirul Naim, Kenny Pallraj, Rafiuddin Roddin, Partiban Janasekaran, Firdaus Saiyadi, Leandro Dos Santos, Careca, and Guilherme de Paula were retained and the Bos Gaurus even received quality reinforcements in Singapore international Shakir Hamzah, Farhan Roslan, Danish Haziq, and Azri Ghani.

However, trouble started to brew when long-serving head coach Mehmet Durakovic had his contract terminated with only two weeks to go until the start of the 2021 season. Family was the reason behind Mehmet’s departure, something that is understandable since the Australian would have to juggle between his work in Malaysia and his family back home, which is being made tougher by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Replacing Mehmet was Chong Yee Fatt, a Perak native who once held top jobs at DRB-HICOM FC and Kuala Lumpur City as well as assuming a number of coaching jobs within the Bos Gaurus. Now, this author does not intend to disrespect Chong, he’s a decent bloke and has quite the courteous personality. However, replacing someone who managed to land Perak top-half finishes in a consistent basis as well as winning the Bos Gaurus the 2018 Malaysia Cup with someone whose prior head-coaching experience was a mid-table finish in the 2nd tier Liga Premier Malaysia back in 2016 can be seen as an obvious downgrade.

Now, to Chong’s defense, he was Mehmet’s assistant during his first year as Perak head coach in 2017 and as someone who had played for the Bos Gaurus and had worked for a considerable amount of time behind the scenes at the club, he practically knew the inner workings of Perak like the back of his hand. However, Chong is severely untested in the highest level of Malaysian football and his tenure showed just that.

Prior to Perak resting Chong from his position on August 2nd, the head coach oversaw 16 games and won only three of those, drawing four, and losing the remaining nine games.

Chong’s successor Shahril Nizam did not fare better at all – he has yet to win a single point for Perak, as he has lost every single one of his four games so far.

Moreover, most of the key players in Perak’s squad declared their loyalty to the Bos Gaurus despite the club’s perilous finances thanks to Mehmet’s steadying presence within the coaching staff. With Mehmet gone, the players jumped ship the moment an opportunity presents itself.

First it was captain Shahrul and newly naturalized Guilherme who departed for guaranteed league trophies over at Johor Darul Ta’zim. Nazirul was loaned out to Sabah FC, while Kenny and Partiban, the former having voiced his support for Chong back in April, have left for newly-promoted Kuala Lumpur. Meanwhile, new signing Shakir bailed himself out to Tanjong Pagar United back in his homeland.

Last but not least, Leandro and Careca, two loyal servants of the club that hallmarked the Mehmet era, have left the club underneath a cloud after allegations of Perak having failed to pay their salaries.

Their replacements were decent players in their own right – Nana Poku have started to adjust himself to Malaysian football after a slow start with UiTM FC earlier in the season, while Lebanese duo Hussein El Dor and Jad Noureddine are undergoing their second stints with Perak. Another Lebanese in Samir Ayass is trying to prove himself in Southeast Asian football after his stint at Persiraja Banda Aceh was curtailed by the pandemic, while Charlie Machell have proven himself to be a capable player at his previous clubs Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng and Hougang United.

And finally, 35-year old Cameroon-born Indonesian defender Zoubairou Garba is somewhat of a left-field signing – having gone out of the game for 7 years between 2012 and 2019  – however his stint at PS TIRA-Persikabo has shown that he could be a capable, experienced player when called upon.

Unfortunately for Perak, the decent players that they have signed are mostly foreigners and with the limited foreign slots that they have, some of these players must drop down to Perak’s reserve side down in the Liga Premier. The Bos Gaurus have also signed some local players during the mid-season transfer market, but none of them were inspirational enough to turn things around.

There are only two matches to go in the 2021 Liga Super season. JDT have wrapped up the title and UiTM, last season’s surprise packages, are suffering from severe second season syndrome and looks set to be relegated in last place. Five points separate second-to-last Perak from 12th placed Melaka United, the final threshold between safety and relegation, and the two sides are set to take each other on in the league’s penultimate round on Friday at the Hang Jebat Stadium.

Perak must win away at Melaka to have a chance of preserving their “unrelegated” status, however with their finances in disarray and their squad in tatters, it’s going to be a huge challenge up ahead for the Bos Gaurus.

Will a miracle happen at the end of Perak’s centenary year of struggle? Or will Perak mark their historic 100th year of existence with an unwanted record in their books?