Kelantan fight MSL drop, 'rest' coach Zahasmi Ismail ahead of finale
Relegation-threatened Kelantan have "rested" their head coach Zahasmi Ismail ahead of their final Malaysia Super League (MSL) match away to Melaka United on Saturday.
Assistant coach Santhit Bensoh will take charge of the Red Warriors' must-win clash, while hoping for their East Coast counterparts T-Team to upstage Sarawak in Kuching.
Kelantan are a point behind the Crocs in 11th spot, so even a win would not guarantee their survival.
"Zahasmi being rested is not a big issue. Santhit is not a stranger to the team and he knows what's needed to be done," Kelantan president Bibi Ramjani told Berita Harian in Kota Bharu.
The club's first-ever female president took over after winning September's elections.
Settling players' outstanding salaries was one of her first acts in charge, but Bibi couldn't improve the team's struggling fortunes on the pitch.
Kelantan are winless in their last eight games, losing six and drawing two.
Their last victory came in July when they beat Kedah 3-1 at home.
The woes of beleaguered former powerhouse began even before the 2017 MSL, as they struggled to come up with the required funds to compete.
After coughing up the bare RM8 million, through the contacts of former president Tan Sri Annuar Musa Kelantan eventually took their place in the league.
But in May, they were handed a six-point deduction as part of sanctions for failing to register their players on time for the 2017 season.
Upon appeal, the punishment was reduced to three points by Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership.
Mohammed Ghaddar's sale to Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) severely depleted the team's scoring prowess, with his replacement Abou Bakr El Mel failing to live up to expectations.
Part of the funds from Ghaddar's sale went towards the hiring of technical director Alfredo Carlos Gonzales, but the South American lasted two months before leaving.
All these purchases were done without paying their former players, including ex-Australia international defender Jon McKain, whose plight attracted the attention of FIFPro.
Even if Kelantan upset the odds on Saturday, they could still be relegated if they do not secure their Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) club licensing by end of October, and settle past debts with McKain.
Bibi assured that her administration team have already submitted the required documentation to secure their license.
"Kelantan FA have already fulfilled all terms required by FAM. We are just waiting for their decision," Bibi said.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.