It has been barely a year since Aidil Sharin took the reins of Malaysian side Kedah FA but, already, the Singaporean coach has surpassed expectations.
On Saturday night, the 42-year-old steered Kedah to Malaysia FA Cup glory after a 1-0 injury-time win over Perak in front of 83,520 fans at the Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
It was the first time a Singaporean coach lifted the cup since Fandi Ahmad led the now-defunct LionsXII to victory in 2015.
"You wouldn't expect in your first year, with a new team, to make it to the final, let alone win it," Aidil told The Straits Times in a phone interview from Alor Setar. "I will definitely enjoy and savour the moment. This is certainly a blessing."
Aidil was appointed by Kedah last October, joining from Singapore Premier League side Home United, who he had guided to the Asean zonal title in the continental AFC Cup competition two months prior.
On a modest budget, Aidil built a new-look squad, which was set targets of a top-five finish in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), and reaching the quarter-finals in cup competitions.
Kedah fans are among the most fanatical fans in Malaysia; they love football. When we win, we are praised very highly. But when we lose, I don't even dare to go out and find food.
AIDIL SHARIN, Kedah's Singaporean coach, after winning the FA Cup on Saturday.
The MSL concluded last week with Kedah finishing fourth, up from sixth place previously.
For their FA Cup triumph, Kedah's squad are rumoured to be in line for a bonus of RM1 million (S$332,480) from the club's management.
This is on top of the win bonuses stated in their contracts, and the competition prize money.
An invitation to Istana Anak Bukit - the Sultan of Kedah's royal palace and official residence - has also been extended to the squad.
Yesterday afternoon, the team were greeted by hundreds of supporters at the airport upon their return to the state capital.
Working with the pressure of the team's manic supporters, said Aidil, has helped him grow as a coach.
"Kedah fans are among the most fanatical fans in Malaysia; they love football," he said. "When we win, we are praised very highly. But when we lose, I don't even dare to go out and find food."
This pressure, along with him being apart from his family in Singapore, is the hardest thing about coaching abroad, he added.
He plans to return to Singapore tonight to see his wife, Salina Mohamed Zin, and two children - son Aizac Hayden, 10, and daughter Alivia, nine - before returning to Malaysia to prepare for their first Malaysia Cup game against Negeri Sembilan on Saturday.
It is not an ideal arrangement for Aidil, but he noted: "You get better only when you go out of your comfort zone, and I believe the experience I am gaining here will only help me improve."
Singapore international Shakir Hamzah, roped in by Aidil as one of the club's five imports, was a rock in the backline and said he was thankful for the support of his coach, teammates, club management, fans and his family.
The 26-year-old told ST: "I do not have the exact words to describe what I am feeling, but it has been nothing short of amazing."
Aidil is the latest Singaporean coach to excel overseas.
In March, 43-year-old Akbar Nawas and his assistant K. Balagumaran - also a Singaporean - won India's I-League with Chennai City.
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) general secretary Yazeen Buhari congratulated Aidil and said: "We are proud to have one of our very own local coaches fly the Singapore flag at the international level and showing their mettle.
"It's heartening to see the growing number of local coaches like him and Akbar in overseas stints, a sign of confidence and high regard foreign teams have of our coaches."