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'The board said we have a lot of money, so let's take part in MPL' - UKM coach raring to face off against UiTM

04:00 EAT 09/10/2017
Sulaiman Hussin, UKM FC, FAM Cup, 08102017
UKM head coach Sulaiman Hussin is grateful towards rivals UiTM for showing the way, but relishes the prospect of squaring off in the MPL.

BY        ZULHILMI ZAINAL       Follow on Twitter

UKM FC are set to become the second university side after UiTM FC to appear in the Premier League, following their FAM semi-final cup win over Shahzan Muda.

But according to head coach Sulaiman Hussin, they will not waste time to plan for their first ever season in the M-League.

The Bangi, Selangor-based side defeated Shahzan Muda 1-0 on aggregate, with Faidzol Fazreen Shamsudin's 110th minute header the only goal of the tie, scored in the second leg, which was held at the UKM Mini Stadium on Sunday.

UKM's winning goal against Shahzan Muda.

"(Admittedly) I was not too pleased with the way we played, we made simple mistakes while playing at home and gave space to Shahzan Muda.

"But I'm not too concerned with playing attractive football in competitive matches. The most important thing is our result; the win and promotion to the Premier League," said Sulaiman to the press after the match.

And he is hoping that the club board shares his enthusiasm in taking part in Malaysia's second tier, revealing that the club are well-funded and that they will begin planning for next season very soon.

"As you can see, the club and university board is present at the match, and they told me that we have a lot of money. So I hope it will be as smooth-sailing as this season has been, we will be funded and able to compete in the Premier League.

"I want to relax a bit for one or two days, but after that we have to get down to planning for next season immediately, not after the final.

"Funding is important, and if UKM want to compete in the second tier, we have to prepare financially better than this season. We need at least RM 5 million (around USD 1.2 million)," he revealed.

Sulaiman also expressed his excitement at the prospect of squaring off in the Premier League against fellow university side and rivals UiTM FC, whose success according to him has provided the template for UKM as well.

Just like UKM, the Lions Troop too started by competing in the Malaysian the third tier, before winning Premier League promotion at the end of the 2012 season. The two university sides have also squared off in the Malaysian university league as two of its strongest sides.

And the 2017 season has proven to be the Shah Alam-based club's most successful season, when they qualified for the Malaysia Cup, to become the first ever university side to qualify for the competition.

"I've always been jealous of UiTM, but also grateful. Thank you UiTM and particularly Mr. Mustaza (UiTM secretary and general manager Mustaza Ahmad), it's because of them that we've been promoted.

"UiTM have been the only successful side in the university league, and back then I wondered why they weren't being challenged by other universities.

"When I took over at UKM, I emulated the formula used by UiTM to get where they are today. I was envious of their achievements, but today we've managed to follow them.

"God willing, we're going to get a 'university derby' between UiTM and UKM," he remarked.

But all the talk of promotion, funding and rivalry has not distracted Sulaiman from what matters the most for him as the head coach of a university football club; his players' education.

"Our squad comprises 18 sports and recreation undergraduates, a trainee-teacher (team captain Hafizudin Sulaiman) as well as six or seven professional footballers.

UKM captain Hafizudin Sulaiman. Photo by Ahmad Fadali | UKM FC

"I've always wanted my players to also have formal education, and praise Allah we are now in the Premier League, while my boys have university degrees," said Sulaiman.

UKM will now face the other semi-final and promotion winners Sime Darby in the FAM Cup final. The Varsity boys will host the first leg of the final on October 15, while Sime Darby will host the return fixture on October 22.