Exclusive: Malaysia Cup is a fantastic competition, says Steve Darby

The former Perak and Johor Head Coach spoke exclusively to Goal regarding the Malaysia Cup, Perak FA, and different elements of Malaysian football
Former Perak FA Head Coach Steve Darby believes that the Malaysia Cup is one of the most unique competitions in this region, claiming that it's the one that players and fans look forward to the most.

The 2013 edition of the tournament is set to kick off on Tuesday, and Darby suggested that the unpredictability of the competition is what makes it so exciting.

"I think the Malaysia Cup is a fantastic competition," he told Goal exclusively.

"It's the one that fans look forward to the most and I've always enjoyed coaching in the Malaysia Cup because it's so unique."

The Englishman never won the competition during his time in Malaysia. However, he did guide Perak to the final in 2006, an experience that Steve still holds in high regard until today.

"The occassion in 2006 was magnificent, a full Bukit Jalil Stadium as well. Sadly though, it was ruined by very dubious refereeing decisions, such as Ahmad Shahrul Azhar being sent off with his first tackle! Kedah deserved to win, but later there were many suspicious raised about the refeereing.

"Nonetheless, the Perak fans were great on that day, and in that particular season, we lost the title on goal difference and also made it to the Malaysia Cup final. And it was not bad at all, considering the budget that we were working with," he added.

It has been five years since Steve Darby left the Seladangs, and quite a number of things have changed since then. Azraai Khor is currently in charge of them, and Darby believes that they are in a very healthy position when compared with the situation towards the end of his tenure.

"I think Perak have a top class coach in Azraai Khor, who should be involved in the national set-up. His record is excellent. Also, do not underestimate the value of stable administration supplied by 'Bobby' in the office. He does a great deal of unheralded work which keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes.

"I had three great Presidents during my time, and it was only ruined by government inteference when PAS took over from UMNO. I couldn't believe it when they stopped paying young players' wages who had families. They destroyed a team that was not only developing, but also doing well, making a profit and paying off debts.

The Seladangs have been placed in Group D, alongside Kedah FA Sarawak FA and Malaysian Super League champions LionsXII. The Singapore-based side are obvious favourites to progress from the group and while Darby indicated that it is beneficial for the players, he was quick to point out that it's detrimental to the progress of the S. League.

"I think it's great for the Young Lions and Malaysia is actually helping Singapore prepare a top class squad for the SEA Games.

"It's one of the toughest competition in Southeast Asia and they are reaping the benefits of it. Sadly though, I think their participation here is ruining the S. League quality.

"The best 18 young players are being taken out of the country so technically there are mixed benefits. The M-League can survive without LionsXII, but I'm not sure if the S. League can.

Although V. Sundramoorthy's men are considered as massive favourites to win the Malaysia Cup, Steve Darby believes that there are three other strong sides, in the form of Kelantan, Johor Darul Takzim and ATM, that are capable of winning the competition.

"ATM and Kelantan have great squads with star players that can win games on their own, like Indra Putra and Marlon Alex James.

"On paper, Johor Darul Takzim should also be another team to watch and I'm delighted to see one of my ex-players Azmi Mohammed coaching them. I think it'll be between these three sides," Darby revealed.

We also quizzed him on the common general question that every Malaysian tends to ponder at times. What is the key to succeed in Malaysian football?

To that, he replied: "The key to success in Malaysian football is having a stable administration that can bring in funds to create a strong team. Ultimately, management is crucial."