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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

New dawn for Sabah Rhinos

New Sabah Times
NEW CHALLENGE … Simunic (with cap), being greeted by Rexjeson Pitirus during his first training session with the state team yesterday.
KOTA KINABALU: This is the start of a new beginning for Sabah football as the state Premier League squad looks likely to be spearheaded by more than 60 per cent of unfamiliar faces in the M-League challenge next season. For now, only seven players from the 2015 squad will remain in the team, and five of them have already put pen to paper with a few still hoping to get a place in the side while the rest have already left either looking for greener pastures or not having their contracts renewed.

 The five, who have already signed their contracts are Rawilson Batuil, Mohd Azzizan Nordin, Jenius Karib, Mohd Badrul Affendy and Maxsius Musa with Mohd Shafuan Shaari and Faizol Nazlin Sayuti set to follow suit. As for Alto Linus, Julamri Muhammad and Endre S. Tipay, their fate in the team is still hanging in the balance.

 The threesome are still training with the team while the rest of the players are from the open selection trials. Former state players in the likes of Rexjeson Pitirus and Billy Dolente are also among the hopefuls seeking a place in the team. But its newly-appointed head coach Vjeran Simunic seems to care less on the latest development in the state team, and he hopes to form the Sabah Premier League side based on local talents.

 The Croatian, who is set to put pen to paper today, said he wants to build the Sabah Rhinos around local talents while the rest of the squad will be made up of local imports and local players. The 62-year-old is hoping to have at least 70 per cent local faces in his side.

 For that reason, Simunic is calling on all Sabah-born players, who are currently plying their trade elsewhere to return home and don Sabah’s colours. “What I want to say is that I hope former Sabah players like Bobby Gonzales and others will return to help the state team.

 “But again, it will all depend on Safa (Sabah Football Association) too, but I’m hoping that 70 per cent of the squad will comprise local players. “Of course I will bring in (import) players but I must be in correspondence with Safa…what they want and what is the budget and target, which of course is to go to the Super League.

 “However, these players (local and foreign imports) must be first-team material and can help the team greatly. And when it comes to talents, Simunic doesn’t really bother whether they have the experience or otherwise. He said what matters most is they have the ability to play at this level of competition, and of course with good discipline and being able to mix with the rest of their teammates.

 “If we have 17 or 18 year-old players from around the state who are good, I’m ready to give them a chance. “I don’t mind if the player is 17 years old or 37 years old…the most important thing is he has the ability. If he has that then he is ready (to be in the senior squad).

 Asked on his expectations of the team, Simunic said he may need at least seven days before he could know a shadow of his new-look side. He also revealed that Sabah is no stranger to him, be it the state team or Sabah itself. “I have been following this team and they (Sabah) have good young talented players.

But, I was told that there have been changes in the team and I must see who stayed from last season and who will be coming. “I’ve only started today with the team and I will only observe. My assistant Johnny (Dominicus) will divide the players and I will observe.

 “This week we will do normal training where we will observe and test each player like their level of fitness and physical condition,” said the vastly-experienced Simunic, who has managed over 30 clubs in Europe and Asia in his managerial career. “So, I can’t answer questions about the team now but after seven days, maybe we can get a clearer picture of the squad,” he added.

 “I’m trying to build our team, create a good atmosphere and everything that is needed to make a better team for the new season. He also revealed there have been contacts between Safa and him in the past but it was not until after several coaching stints in Bahrain,

Vietnam and back to Malaysia that he has finally got his dream move. “I’ve known Sabah from when I was with (Brunei club side) DPMM FC in 2007…we have played many friendly matches. So I know Sabah and I’ve been here many times as a tourist.

 “We’ve been in situations to make a deal but always, I go different ways. My wish has always been to come to Sabah and I like Sabah very much. “It is like my hometown Split (in Croatia) and I can’t be happy enough,” said the former Croatian international goalkeeper.

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