by Dez Corkhill
At the start of the year, Kuala Lumpur City FC CEO Stanley Bernard told me that a “satisfactory” season would be one where the team “bettered their best previous season in the professional era”. The target was set in 2010 when Kuala Lumpur ended up 9th in the Malaysia Super League. To that end, a guaranteed top-6 finish in the Malaysia Super League can be seen as “Objective Achieved” for Kuala Lumpur City FC for the 2021 League season.
But what of the Malaysia Cup? I had to quadruple check the records to finally confirm that crazy 6-4 defeat at Kedah in October 1992 – 1992 – was the last time a Kuala Lumpur team played in the knock-out stages of the Piala Malaysia.
10,500+ DAYS IN THE WILDERNESS
To repeat. It was in the days of V Murugan in goal, Razip Ismail at the back, Mat Zan Mat Aris in midfield, and a forward line including Anto Grabo and the famed Azman Adnan that Kuala Lumpur last played a knock-out match in the Malaysia Cup.
KL came close in 2011 when a 2-1 defeat to Selangor in the last of the group matches cost them a place in the Quarter Finals, but it is 29 years and over 10,500 days since Kuala Lumpur last graced the Quarter Finals of the Piala Malaysia. THAT’s a target to aim for.
On the field the team has produced its most successful League campaign since Malaysia introduced Professional football in 2004 with a place in the top 6 already guaranteed ahead of a very difficult game still to play.
Behind the scenes, a revised Board of Directors and Management team has been put in place to take Kuala Lumpur City FC into the AFC licensing age and move the club towards financial stability and – vitally – the Cheras Stadium is now under the exclusive Management of KL City Football Club.
To achieve “Objective Achieved”, hurdles have been overcome such as a very late change in Coach at the start of the season, the enforced late recruitment of players the new Coach needed and that was followed by the loss of not one, but two, star import strikers to season-ending injuries.
On top of that, Hadin Azman and Anwar Ibrahim had their seasons ended early due to injury, and a series of controversial penalties and a mind-numbing number of late goals conceded threatened to gnaw away at the spirit of new Coach Bojan Hodak’s team. But it didn’t.
Instead, as the season progressed, performances began to get the results they deserved. Team cohesion visibly grew and team leaders emerged. Irfan Zakaria proved a fine defensive foil for Giancarlo Gallifuoco and Kevin Mendoza showed International form in goal as defence was the rock upon which Kuala Lumpur City FC’s season progressed.
That rock was supplemented by Paulo Josue’s best-ever goals tally with selfless support from Romel Morales, Zhafri Yahyah, Hadin (before his injury), J Partiban and Fakhrul Aiman at the “business-end” of the pitch.
But my knowledge of Coach Bojan – and the CEO – is that neither will want to stop at being the best Kuala Lumpur team of the professional era. Bojan will look at what he achieved at Kelantan and Johor Darul Ta’zim and will already be looking to end the League season strongly against the Champions, Johor. And then will turn his attention to how Kuala Lumpur City FC’s Malaysia Cup campaign can show more signs of improvement, and to end 10,500++ days of hurt.