Eyeing the top rung of the ladder

Fadhil Yunus

As the latest instalment of the much-anticipated Brunei Super League – the country’s top division of league football – looms on the horizon, Wijaya FC have been busy preparing as they look to build on their good work from previous seasons.

An ever-present in the top flight, Wijaya are entering advanced stages of pre-season training and they will look to apply the finishing touches before a decision will be made on the final squad selection for the upcoming season.

“We started after the end of the DST Super League 2019 along with the National Club Licensing process which requires commitment from the management and players throughout the year,” said Wijaya FC team manager Md Hilmi Hazwan bin Zakaria. “Actual pre-season kicked off last December 2019.”

The club’s latest training session was at the Berakas Sports Complex where several players are currently on trial as they look to complement the existing squad.

“We have conducted trials that were opened for our senior team. Wijaya FC have established a selection policy which we have strictly implemented all these years. There are four systematic approaches which we look at, namely: Standard, discipline, commitment and knowledge.”

Wijaya FC players during training. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

“During the trials, Wijaya FC were pleased with the response from local players – youth to senior level. Currently, six-nine players have been called up for training and pre-season matches, and are still under review and to be finalised soon.”

The club has been scheduled for a sparring match with league rival Kota Ranger FC, which will be a chance for the triallists to impress and make their case for selection in the team.

In keeping up with the demand of the national league, Wijaya have placed a strong focus towards ensuring high levels of fitness of the players.

“The priority for the club has always been about assessing the fitness level and health of each player which we are closely monitoring and ensure that all players are up to the standards,” said Md Hilmi Hazwan.

In the past editions, Wijaya, who were founded in 1989, have been performing consistently in the league having finished in third place twice in three seasons. The manager has attributed their consistency towards the work that has been undertaken by the coaching setup.

“The past seasons have been tough on us. Alhamdulillah, with the excellent services led by Coach Mahdini and Coach Zulkefly, we are able to prove our capability in the local league.”

Wijaya, who were crowned Brunei league champions in 2003 a year after lifting the FA Cup, will do their part to improve the standard of football in the country through producing players who are able to make the cut for overseas’ standards.

“Our hope in general is to raise the standard of the Brunei local players and produce professionals who can compete and play locally and overseas,” said Md Hilmi Hazwan.

“We have a lot of good coaches and players. The question is how much they want to move further and take a step forward to reach the high standards.”

“I always believe we as locals can be professionals and be top notch coaches and players. It’s the mindset that matters along with support from the authorities.”

On the target and ambition of the team, he said, “We always maintain an excellent relationship between the management and players and implement systematic roles and responsibility in the club.”

The club will look to build on their progress in the last three seasons and reach heights that they scaled back in 2003 when they were Brunei champions.

“Our target is to be the top-ranked team in the local league and, Insya Allah, to be a top-notch team in Brunei.”

It is an ideal outlook for the club to have a group of players that will remain together in the long run.

“Every new season, we always try to maintain our players which we believe and have had a good relationship with from the beginning. As the old saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. It takes perhaps years to build a greater team, greater mind set towards football and foremost support from both management and authorities.”

The club’s stalwarts Marhazif Ahad and Jamrin Johari can be counted on and have been with the club since day one. The head manager said that the pair have been doing an excellent role to lead the team.

On the club’s plans for expansion, the national and AFC club licensing requirements remain high on the agenda.

There are also further plans to include younger age groups which will help them play in the national youth leagues.

“What’s in the pipeline is to establish both under 16 and 19 youth teams to comply with certain requirements, and Insya Allah, to be able to play both at the national and international level.”

The final squad selection could be confirmed in the first week of February and the club may also look at a number of players during the next transfer window.