Meet ‘angry’ coach in Mariners’ AFC path who deals in tough love – just ask his own team

Terengganu head coach Tomislav Steinbrückner is fond of dropping a public barb at his own players, writes Tom Smithies

The Mariners players might have thought they were used to a coach who wore his heart on his sleeve, after the touchline displays of Nick Montgomery, the head coach who steered them to the A-League title in June. Well, just wait until they come across Tomislav Steinbrückner.

Head coach of Malaysian side Terengganu, Steinbrückner will lead his side into battle against the Mariners in Wednesday night’s AFC Cup clash in Malaysia – a first foray into Asia’s second competition for the A-League club.

But whether Steinbrückner will be charming or churlish remains to be seen – and that’s just towards his own team.

A midfielder who played for a series of smaller Croatian clubs has largely managed at a similar level since retiring, but at the end of last year was appointed head coach of Terengganu in the Malaysian Super League with a brief to build on last season’s second-placed finish.

The fact Steinbrückner was already the club’s technical director before assuming the hot seat might sound rather familiar to Mariners fans, and the parallels with Tony Walmsley’s ill-fated Central Coast reign in 2016 don’t stop there.

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So far, not so good would sum up Steinbrückner’s tenure so far, with the side currently sitting sixth on the 12-team ladder having lost the Piala Sumbangsih (Charity Cup) at the start of the season.

To compound matters, Terengganu played Kuala Lumpur City in the semi finals of the Malaysia FA Cup a few weeks ago and lost on penalties – much to Steinbrückner’s annoyance.

“My team, in some moments appeared like (they were) playing under pressure… and don’t have the courage,” he said. “When I compared it to the last match we played, we looked better with more energy and more confidence then.

“I think maybe because last time we (didn’t) need to win but today we (needed) to win. We didn’t look good like the last few matches.”

But what really got the 48-year-old’s goat was the reaction of certain players when he sought volunteers for the penalty shootout.

“I’m a little bit angry because some of my players when asked to take penalty shots, said no… (they were) scared. I myself asked Jordan Mintah but he said no. I asked Faiz Nasir to take it, he said he didn’t want to. I asked Hakimi because he has a good left foot, but he didn’t want it. You tell me why,” he said.

Their reluctance was perhaps less surprising in the wake of subsequent online criticism of one player who did step forward to take one, Liridon Krasniqi, but saw his rather tame effort saved. Mintah felt the immediate consequences, being dropped for the next game – “I can’t work with a player who doesn’t believe in me,” his coach said darkly.

Nor is it the first time Steinbruckner has been liberal with his criticisms, lambasting striker Adisak Kraisorn for “wasting” chances earlier in the season, and declaring after a 5-1 thrashing by Selangor that “there were too many individual mistakes… almost everyone made mistakes in dangerous areas. We celebrated (the holy day) Hari Raya too early. My players were on holiday.”

Still, the Mariners should beware of Terengganu’s recent form, going their last 10 games unbeaten and holding a 2-0 lead after the first leg of the quarterfinal of the Malaysian Cup – something of a redemption tie against Selangor last weekend.

“My boys and the fans were brilliant. The atmosphere was amazing, the game was beautiful and I’m happy,” said Steinbruckner.

Somehow you sense that optimistic mood has a very limited shelf life.