Kuala Lumpur (27 April, 2016): Four months into the job, Frank Bernhardt wants his young tigers to roar and make it count when the time comes in the Nations Cup 2016.
The German faces his first major test in the quadrangular at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Malacca on June 3&5 since his appointment as National Under-22 head coach by the FA of Malaysia for a two-year period.
But the job of picking the best players for the Nations Cup which will feature Under-21 teams from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam is far from over. The search for the best talent continues.
“We are still scouting for talented players by watching them in the Premier League and President’s Cup matches,” said Bernhardt, adding that he hopes to have a pool of 50 players in his stable at any one time.
“We have to be very patient in our search. I’m looking beyond the Nations Cup. The 2017 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) will be our priority but it all begins with how we perform in the Nations Cup in Malacca,” he said, with a wryly smile.
The 46-year-old Bernhardt admitted that the fitness levels of majority of the players in the squad “has greatly improved’ over the last three months and he is looking forward to a fitter machinery at his disposal.
“The coaching staff together with fitness instructors will assess the players once again when they join training camp on May 23. A lot of the players are fitter than before but they can get better,” said the former Estonia Under-19 and Under-23 coach.
He plans to invite players from the FAM and President’s Cup for training camp on May 7-9, a second camp for Under-19 players on May 20-22 followed by a third camp on May 25 before the final squad for the Nations Cup is selected.
“Players who are not seriously involved in the Super League and Premier Leagues but have the potential will be given the opportunity for training camp. We are looking at every player. If they are good enough we will bring them in,” said Bernhardt.
In the run-up to the Nations Cup, the Malaysians were held to a 1-1 draw by Nepal and defeated the Philippines 4-1 at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi last month.
“They played a better match against Philippines than Nepal. The Nepalese were very mature in their game, fast and strong upfront which turned out to be a tough match for our boys. But generally we did quite well,” he added.
“I think some positions are clear in the team but we still have to see other players from the President Cup and FAM Cup. We want a pool of 50 players to choose from. The Nations Cup is part of the process of selecting the squad for the SEA Games. Every player has to work hard, no guarantees.”
Bernhardt, however, is quite concerned with the back injury sustained by JDT II player Dominic Tan Jun Jin and hopes the player joins training camp with no further problems.
“We sent him to the physiotherapist and it was discovered that he has been sustaining this back injury for a long time. We kept him out of matches for some time as he is an important player. We want to make sure he is 100 percent fit. Dominic is playing again and that is a very positive sign.
“All players must be 100 percent fit if they want to play for the national team. The tempo and speed in international matches is far different than playing at club level. That’s why we conducted fitness tests and the results were not good when we compared them to international level,” he said.