Sports Wizard®’s Mike Mulvey teams up with former World Cup star

Sports Wizard®’s Mike Mulvey has teamed up with former Liverpool and Senegal star, El Hadji Diouf, in his new role at Malaysian club, Sabah FA. 

Mulvey’s new role as Sabah’s Technical Director has seen him team up with Diouf as the pair look to turn around the under-performing Club’s fortunes.

Diouf was a driving force in his country’s historic run to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Quarter Finals, turning him into a footballing star.

Diouf’s energetic performances helped his Country to the last 8 of the competition – where they lost 0-1 in extra time to eventual third-place winners Turkey – as well as seeing the forward named in the tournament’s All-Star team.

Mulvey is a Sports Wizard® football consultant, part of our elite football group, and is the reigning A-League Championship Coach, FFA Coach of the Year and Queensland Sports Coach of the Year.

See the full story below.

Reflecting the occasional absurdity of professional sport and the rollercoaster life of a coach, Mike Mulvey went from hero to zero and back to hero in the space of just nine days before accepting his new role at Malaysian club, Sabah FA.

At the end of last year, the man who masterminded the Brisbane Roar’s 2014 championship-winning A-League campaign was sacked as the club made a slow start to the new season. And, yet, just over a week later on Dec. 1, he was named Queensland’s coach of the year on a surreal awards’ night with his former employers sitting at a different table.

“Football is unlike any other industry as it can be quite unstable at times,” Mulvey told ESPN FC. “One thing I know for certain is that I am a much better coach now than I was before all those experiences and I move on with clarity of purpose and the will to succeed.”

One wouldn’t blame Mulvey for being bitter and bewildered, but the English-born Australian seems too focused on his new job. He took over under-achieving Sabah as technical director on March 1. And, the lifelong Manchester United fan is working with former Liverpool striker El Hadji Diouf in trying to revive the chronically underperforming club.

Playing in the nation’s second tier, Sabah are one of Malaysia’s two major sides from East Malaysia on the massive island of Borneo. The state is better known for its diving spots and spectacular hikes up Mount Kinabalu, but Mulvey wants to help reinvigorate its fading football tradition.

Sabah haven’t won the Malaysian top flight since 1996. Their last Malaysia Cup success came the season before, when ex-Socceroo Scott Ollerenshaw was the league’s top striker. It was Kota Kinabalu-based Ollerenshaw who approached Mulvey soon after he was sacked by Brisbane.

“At first I was lukewarm [on the idea of joining Sabah] as I was committed to a period of self-education in Europe but I was taken with their ambition and desire to improve the club,” he said. “I have no doubt that Sabah can make enough improvements on and off the field to go to the next level.”

Mulvey arrived with Sabah scrambling after the abrupt departure of Irishman George O’Callaghan who’d been appointed head coach for the 2015 season but had been sacked for missing training, according to the club.

Local coach Justin Ganai has stepped in to take over as manager for a third time, with Mulvey’s support.

Borneo is probably the last place that Mulvey expected to find himself as he tried his luck as a youth player at both Oldham Athletic and Manchester United. That was before, as he puts it, “getting a tap on the shoulder to tell me, thanks, but no thanks”.

Arriving in Queensland at the age of 19, Mulvey played for Brisbane Lions in the National Soccer League. But it was as a coach in the so-called Sunshine State where he made a name for himself, guiding Queensland’s women to four Australian titles and the men of the now defunct Gold Coast United to two National Youth League crowns.

When he took over at Brisbane Roar in December 2012, some of the Suncorp faithful weren’t happy, starting a ‘Mulvey Out’ campaign, even before he’d been given the job on a full-time basis. The fans feared that a British coach would turn the page on Roar’s renowned passing game to play route one football.

The fears proved to be unfounded as Roar were both stylish and successful, winning their second Premier’s Plate — by 10 points — and their third A-League championship in Mulvey’s first full season in charge.

“It’s very simple: you have to let your football do the talking,” he said. “Winning is a good philosophy. If you can do it in style, that’s even better. “Perceptions are just a thought generated by media comments or people talking football in a pub or around the breakfast table.”

Certainly the common perception of Sabah’s star import El Hadji Diouf is that the former Senegal forward and 2002 World Cup All-Star can be trouble. Liverpool fans will remember the infamous 2003 UEFA Cup incident when he spat at a Celtic supporter at Parkhead — along with his modest return of six goals from 80 appearances.

But so far, Mulvey has only positive things to say about the 34-year-old who has scored three times in three league matches since joining from Leeds United.

“El Hadji is competitive and wants to win. That’s what I like about him. He has a good work ethic and undoubtedly his experience and quality on the ball can make a big difference in the Malaysian league.”

Diouf’s former Senegal national teammate Abdoulaye Faye, who played eight seasons in the English Premier League with the likes of Newcastle United and Hull City, is Sabah’s other big name recruit.

Mulvey got a glimpse of life in the Premier League when he was invited to spend two days with the City Football Group — which controls Manchester City — last month.

“From when I was a kid growing up in Manchester as a United fan, I was amazed at the development of the 80 hectares site… it was unrecognisable and I learned plenty,” he said. “We all have our allegiances, mine is to being the best coach I can be. The most important lesson was the inspiration to make a difference.”

Mulvey had penciled in a six month sabbatical in the UK, but had to change his plans when offered the Sabah job. It is certainly a contrast in terms of resources compared to the Manchester clubs — and even to Brisbane Roar — but the 52-year-old is bracing himself for the experience.

“Winning championships doesn’t just happen — it takes an enormous amount of hard work, focus and ensuring that everyone is engaged and committed. And, it all starts with a plan. There is room for improvement here and that is the challenge I am looking forward to.”

The last 10 months have shown Mulvey that almost any high or low is possible in football and that joy and disappointment are usually never too far apart. Sabah can be sure that their new director of football will be aiming for the moon.

Jason Dasey is Senior Editor for ESPN FC in Singapore. An ex-World Cup & EPL host, he has also been a CNN and BBC broadcaster. @JasonDasey

This story first appeared on ESPN FC on 5 March 2014, titled ‘Manchester’s Mulvey teams up with ex-Liverpool star Diouf in Malaysia‘.