S$1-million windfall, open-top bus parade await FA Cup champions Kedah
Malaysian team to be rewarded and feted by open-top bus tour after Singaporean leads them to FA Cup win
As Kedah, the newly minted Malaysian FA Cup champions, arrived at the Sultan Abdul Halim Airport in Alor Setar yesterday afternoon, their legion of football-mad supporters roared in appreciation of their heroes.
Led by Singaporean coach Aidil Sharin, Kedah claimed the trophy after a 1-0 extra-time victory over Perak, the reigning Malaysia Cup champions, in front of 83,250 supporters at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Saturday.
It was the first piece of silverware that Aidil, 42, has delivered for Kedah and it came less than a year into his new job.
Said Aidil: "The airport was full-house when we touched down just now, all the fans were there to welcome us.
"Even in Subang, after the game, the fans came back to the hotel and celebrated with us. It was a very nice atmosphere and a good experience."
Aidil and his men can expect more adulation today, when an open-top bus parade takes place in Alor Setar.
The team are also set to pocket a total of RM3 million (S$1m) in bonuses.
"We'll be meeting the (Chief) Minister (Mukhriz Mahathir) and Sultan (Sallehuddin Badlishah)," he said.
"And there'll be an open-top bus parade in Alor Setar, looking forward to that too. We're all excited."
Aidil's Kedah have surpassed expectations with their achievements this season.
The management hit the reboot button after a sixth-placed finish in the 12-team Malaysian Super League (MSL) and a group-stage exit in the Malaysia Cup last year, bent on building a new team to bring back their glory days.
It was no easy task considering they have a smaller budget compared to the traditional powerhouses.
In spite of that, Aidil led them to fourth place in the MSL and reclaimed the FA Cup, which Kedah last won in 2017.
Said the former Home United coach: "As compared to last season and the targets we set for this season, we achieved everything we wanted to.
"Top five for the MSL and for this FA Cup; last year they didn't even get through the first round. So winning it this year was way beyond our expectations, but I'm very satisfied with the past seven months with this new team.
"New foreigners, new coach, half the team are new... this season has been good. Also, we have qualified for the AFC Champions League (second qualifying round) next year, so that's something to look forward to, too."
The title triumph is the second in two years for Aidil, who led Home to the Asean zonal title of the AFC Cup last year.
This is also the first time a Singaporean coach has tasted success in Malaysian football since Fandi Ahmad led the now-defunct LionsXII to success in the same tournament in 2015.
Aidil is also the second Singaporean head coach to win honours with a top-tier foreign club this year, the other being former Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas, who helped Indian club Chennai City FC win the I-League in March.
But Aidil is also aware that the pressure will only get heavier when they kick off their Malaysia Cup campaign against Negeri Sembilan on Friday.
Terengganu and PKNS are the other teams in their group.
Said Aidil: "We may have beaten Perak, but the Malaysia Cup is a whole new tournament and we need to take it one game at a time.
"The game quality is different also because we need to be top two in the group to advance to the next round and our group is a tough one.
"Also, not forgetting that it only gets tougher because now the pressure's on us... especially with the fans.
"It's also hard when you're the favourites, so we need to prepare to face them and play our best game every round.
"Every team want to win, but that can't be the only thing on our mind. We need to fight just as hard, or even harder if we want to get ourselves to the top again."
Kedah's latest triumph also means that there is a Singaporean presence in both trophy-winning sides of Malaysian football this season - with midfield maestro Hariss Harun leading Johor Darul Ta'zim to their sixth consecutive MSL title and defender Shakir Hamzah playing an instrumental role to help Kedah lift the FA Cup.
Aidil is quick to pay tribute to Shakir, his former lieutenant at Home, praising the 26-year-old centre-back for being "nothing less than superb".
Said Aidil: "I can say that he's been outstanding in a foreign league and he's upped his game.
"He's doing very well in the central defence instead of his usual left side.
"He's been the Man-of-the-Match in a few games and he's also in the MSL Team of the Season with me as coach.
"For a Singaporean player to make it to the MSL Team of the Season, it says a lot about his performances.
"But, like I will always say, I know he can still push himself to be better... and I'm excited to be on this journey with him."