Player power, demanding boss led to Fandi's fall from grace

The well-paid squad include Malaysian internationals Safee Sali (left) and Safiq Rahim. Johor have been grouped with PKNS, T-Team and Felda United for their Malaysia Cup campaign, which kicks off on Aug 20.  Fandi Ahmad, with Tunku Ismail Idris, is s
The well-paid squad include Malaysian internationals Safee Sali (left) and Safiq Rahim. Johor have been grouped with PKNS, T-Team and Felda United for their Malaysia Cup campaign, which kicks off on Aug 20. Fandi Ahmad, with Tunku Ismail Idris, is said to have found out about his initial demotion from the Internet. He has since been relieved of all coaching duties and it is not known how his relationship with the prince now stands.BERITA HARIAN FILE PHOTO ST FILE PHOTO
The well-paid squad include Malaysian internationals Safee Sali (left) and Safiq Rahim. Johor have been grouped with PKNS, T-Team and Felda United for their Malaysia Cup campaign, which kicks off on Aug 20.  Fandi Ahmad, with Tunku Ismail Idris, is s
The well-paid squad include Malaysian internationals Safee Sali (left) and Safiq Rahim. Johor have been grouped with PKNS, T-Team and Felda United for their Malaysia Cup campaign, which kicks off on Aug 20. Fandi Ahmad, with Tunku Ismail Idris, is said to have found out about his initial demotion from the Internet. He has since been relieved of all coaching duties and it is not known how his relationship with the prince now stands.BERITA HARIAN FILE PHOTO ST FILE PHOTO

Owner power: Prince calls the shots, selects the team Player power: Well-paid squad resented any scoldings

A deadly combination of player power and an overly demanding boss has led to Fandi Ahmad's downfall at Johor Darul Takzim.

While a gag order has been imposed by club president Tunku Ismail Idris, 29, who is also the state's crown prince, sources The Straits Times spoke to all said the same thing - that the Singapore football legend was ousted from his head-coach post by a toxic dressing-room atmosphere and the prince's eagerness to see instant results.

Having signed seven Malaysian internationals, including midfielder and national skipper Safiq Rahim and star striker Safee Sali, Fandi, 51, had great difficulty managing some of the players who came with big egos.

Players reported for pre-season unfit and refused to put in extra training.

It also did not help that the big names were also not performing.

Safee, for example, is paid more than RM100,000 (S$40,000) a month, eclipsing Fandi's reported $30,000 salary.

But he scored just four times in 13 games. Safiq found himself frequently benched and branded "an ordinary player" by his coach after underwhelming displays as the title favourites finished third in the 12-team Malaysian Super League and lost 0-1 to Kelantan in the Malaysian FA Cup final.

Said a source: "Fandi wanted to bring the best out of the players. He was also under pressure to deliver the results.

"There were times when he called it like it was; if players were not performing, he told them. If he needed to yell at them, he would. But the so-called 'stars' in the team would not tolerate that.

"The more Fandi demanded, the more he lost the dressing room, and inevitably, matches. It's hard to win when players don't want to play for the coach."

Fandi's fall from grace has been nothing short of dramatic.

He started the season as the most-envied coach in the MSL, boasting a squad which also included former Spain striker Daniel Guiza and former Lazio midfielder Simone del Nero.

Guiza left in mid-season after his loan from Spanish club Getafe ended while del Nero was released owing to injury problems.

Then, just two weeks ago, Tunku Ismail announced on Facebook that Fandi was demoted to assistant coach, following the imminent arrival of former Valencia coach Cesar Fernando Jimenez.

But on Tuesday, another post on the club's Facebook page revealed that Fandi had been relieved of all coaching duties but would stay on as team manager.

Sources said Fandi found out about his initial demotion only from the Internet.

While it is unclear if his relationship with Tunku Ismail, who bankrolls the club, has soured, club observers said it is no secret that the prince often tinkers with team selection.

He has been known to make phone calls during matches to the team bench, demanding that changes be made. He has also been known to burst into the dressing room to rebuke the team after disappointing performances.

A veteran Malaysian footballjournalist believes that working for Tunku Ismail is similar to working under Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who is infamous for his intolerance of under-performing coaches.

Said the reporter, who declined to be named: "The prince controls the team. He decides who to sign and picks the line-up. Nobody has the audacity to question him.

"When Johor lose, the prince gets upset but the players and officials keep quiet because he is a generous paymaster.

"Even the players are stressed and are trying to run away. Safee wants to move to Selangor and Safiq is planning a transfer to Felda United. They are unable to cope with the pressure of winning every game."

meng@sph.com.sg