BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
If a question is raised on who plays the most eye-pleasing football in the local league, you can bet your bottom ringgit that the majority will name one specific team. Kedah have been firing on all cylinders this season and are doing it in a very attractive manner.
There's an argument that in the elite footballing world today, the game has shifted slightly from the possession style that Barcelona impressed onto the world, to a pace and power style that is currently successfully used by the likes of Chelsea and Juventus.
Yet, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are still up there amongst the best in Europe and that's the kind of success that Tan Cheng Hoe had in mind when he was brought into the set-up at Kedah.
"Of course when in 2014, I came into the team I try to instill short passing football. You see the modern game, team try to keep the ball possession," said Tan
Key players in the style that Tan wants Kedah to play. Photo credit: Mohd Safian/CSN
His Kedah team can be rarely seen punting a hopeful ball up the field for their strikers or wingers. The style of this Red Eagles incarnation is one that hogs the ball and caress it around the pitch from one player to the next. Employing a ball-playing defensive midfielder, Kedah's movement revolves around a very fluid midfield comprising the likes of Akram Mahinan, Liridon Krasniqi and Sandro da Silva.
"When you want to keep the ball possession, you have to go with short passes. When you play a lot of long passes, you can't keep good ball possession. This is the modern way of football I need, especially with Malaysian players," explains Tan.
It's an ethos which Tan hopes to will rub on to the the national team. He was part of the coaching squad when Malaysia won the AFF Suzuki Cup back in 2010 and Tan is acutely aware of the limitations Malaysian players will always have and see this style as the best way to combat those limitations.
"Because I'm been with the national team before, if the national team wants to improve, we cannot play the long ball game. Because we are Malaysian we don't have the size and height to play that game."
"So that's why when I come in to Kedah, slowly instill and practice with the players how to play short passes and support in between. Not too hurry to go forward. If you have an opportunity to go for goal, then you go," added Tan
Vietnam players have even smaller physique but takes greater care of the ball with success. Photo credit: Asiana
After three years and counting into the Kedah job, Tan has certainly molded his team from an also-ran to one of the contenders for the league title. All done by employing and sticking to his believe that possession-based football is the way forward.
"You can see in Europe, those top teams are the ones with more possession of the ball. Might as well I try to do these changes. End of the days you can see the fruit of labour but there's still room to improve for these players," said Tan.
If he continues in the upward trajectory that he's in, Tan Cheng Hoe may well be in-line to be offered the role of the head coach of the national team some time in the future but for now, he's happy enough to be molding and building players for the national team with the right footballing foundation.