BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
When met by the press days before Felda United's first leg Malaysia Cup semi-final match against Kedah, the Fighters boss Sathianathan Bhaskaran praised their opponents' squad retention.
According to him, this ran counter to his team's decision to part ways with a number of their key players at the start of the season, when they had done well in the 2016 season.
Although the Fighters ended their 2016 Super League campaign in the second place and qualified for the 2017 AFC Cup, then head coach Irfan Bakti Abu Salim left them for Terengganu, followed by Lutfulla Turaev, Ferris Danial, Adib Aizuddin Abdul Latif and Shukur Jusoh. They also parted ways with several stars such as Syamim Yahya, D. Christie Jayaseelan and Forkey Doe. Star striker Thiago Augusto Fernandes also left, but later returned in the 2017 mid-season transfer window.
They started the 2017 season shakily under new head coach Azmi Mohamed, but he resigned barely two months into the season. It took the appointment of Sathianathan and the return of Thiago to revitalise the Fighters' 2017 campaign, and in the second half of the season they emerged as one of the best sides in the Super League to currently sit in third with one round remaining, and have now reached the cup semi-finals.
Ahead of the first leg clash in Jengka on Sunday, the former Malaysia head coach praised the Red Eagles' decision to keep their key players over the past years, while questioning the Fighters' squad culling in the pre-season.
"The core Kedah squad has been retained for the past three, four years and they've been playing together for a long time, including two of their foreign players.
"They have that stability, which gives them an edge, unlike us who constantly undergo revamping. We were second in the standings last year, yet 11, 12 of the players were dropped, I don't know whose idea that was.
"That's not a healthy way of running things if you want a competitive side. Only teams that have no ambition sack that many players (at the same time),
"We should have not lost Christie, Syamim, good players, to Pahang. Look what happened to Felda in the first round. Only when we signed quality players in the mid-season transfer period did we improve; with nine wins, one draw and one defeat," lamented Sathianathan when met by the press on Friday.
The first leg match between Felda and Kedah will be played at the Tun Abdul Razak Stadium, Jengka this Sunday, while the return fixture will take place at the Darul Aman Stadium next Saturday.