Zainal Abidin Hassan is a household name in Malaysia, having played mostly for Selangor and Pahang, alternately since 1980 up to 1999 – switching sides between teams was the norm for him.
But in the end, the Selangor born-lad, has now more Pahang blood than Selangor, having gone to coach and take managerial duties with the former.
He started playing in the Selangor senior team in 1980 at the age of 18, and in his first stint for the Red Giants, he scored 21 goals in 41 competitive matches, before he moved to Pahang for the 1983 season.
It was here the lanky defender, normally plays rightback, was converted to striker by former Pahang coach, late Frank Lord and the rest is history as he became the region’s top strikers. He scored thirteen goals and helped Pahang capture the Malaysia Cup for the first time in 1983 defeating his former team – Selangor – 3-2.
His prowess did not go unnoticed at the national level, and he went on to represent Malaysia at the SEA Games and many international tournaments thereafter to cap 138 times.
He however could not resist the calling of his birth state, and in 1985 he was back with Selangor. His ability kept on growing, but it was only in 1986 that he was able to capture the hallowed Malaysia Cup with the Red Giants.
But it was only in the following year that he partnered up in one of the most famous striking partnership in the country’s football – with Dollah Salleh – when the Melaka-born forward transferred to Selangor from Johor. It was with Dollah that he helped Selangor capture back-to-back Malaysia Cup – in 1989 and 1990.
The domestic success borne on the shoulders of the duo also spilled into the international level, when they helped Malaysia win the football SEA Games gold medal for the first time in ten years in 1989 under English coach Trevor Hartley.
So successful were the duo, that when Zainal once again moved to Pahang in 1991, Dollah followed suit to spearhead the attacks of the Dream Team of 1992. The duo played for Pahang until 1996, capturing the 1992 Malaysia Cup and Division 1 title, and the 1995 Division 1 title, and scoring 131 goals between the two of them.
Zainal also featured for Malaysia in the inaugural AFF Cup (then called the Tiger Cup) in 1996, leading the Malaysia to the final before losing to Thailand 1-0. He also emerged as the tournament’s MVP, at the age of 35. He soon retired from international football, although he returned for a final hurrah with Selangor in 1997 (minus Dollah), and played for them until his club football retirement in 1999.
He then swapped his football boots for futsal shoes for a while, to help the then fledgling Malaysia futsal team, although he would then take up managerial and coaching positions with several teams such as the Under-17 national team, and Shahzan Muda. He then reunited with Dollah Salleh at Pahang in 2011, with Dollah as the head coach and him as the team manager.
While Dollah has left this season to coach Police, Zainal remains with Pahang as the assistant team manager. But his role in the team is a wholesome one. He is the key link man in the team.
The Zainal factor in Pahang has been around for almost 25 years now, and he could well be around for some time more to come with his magic wand and Midas touch.