LEGENDARY centre-forward Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Minhat, affectionately known as "Raja Bola", died yesterday, leaving an indelible mark on Malaysian football.
Ghani underwent a triple bypass heart surgery on Thursday but succumbed to complications at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. He was 76.
Ghani was laid to rest at the USJ 21 Muslim cemetery in Subang Jaya after Friday prayers. He leaves behind wife Puan Sri Tengku Aishah Tengku Ibrahim and four children.
A centre-forward and occasional inside-left during his playing days from 1952 to 1968, Ghani bagged every domestic honour available as he won the Malaysia Cup seven times and the FAM Cup -- then the premier knockout tournament in the country -- six times with Selangor.
Ghani, who once scored 10 goals in an inter-state competitive match, carried his domestic form to international level with his goals leading Malaya to three Merdeka Tournament titles and the Asian Games bronze in 1962 while firing Selangor to the 1967 Asian Club Championship final.
FA of Malaysia deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah paid tribute to Ghani, who turned down a chance to play professionally with Cardiff City in 1962, by describing his demise as a great loss to the country.
"My condolences to the family of Tan Sri," said Tengku Abdullah. "Sadly, the nation has lost a football legend. May Allah bless his soul and put him among the righteous ones."
National coach Datuk K. Rajagobal, among many other Malaysian legends who played under Ghani when he coached Selangor from 1983 to 1985, said Ghani remained humble despite the many successes during his career.
"He was my coach during the 1980s and though I did not get to see him play, he was a legend. He was also very humble and he always encouraged me and gave me advice on how to improve as a player.
"I always looked up to him and this is a great loss to the nation," said Rajagobal.
Another former international, Reduan Abdullah, described Ghani as the best coach he ever had.
"To me, he was the best coach I ever worked with," said Reduan. "He was like a mentor to me. I am so thankful to him for what he has done for me. He brought the best out of every player and I will never forget the time when we (Selangor) won the Malaysia Cup in 1984."
Born in Rantau, Negri Sembilan, Ghani grew up in Kuala Lumpur and joined Police Depot in the Selangor League in 1952 in his first competitive outing before moving on to Selangor Rangers.
He was picked to play for the state team in 1953 and claimed his first national honour when Selangor shared the FAM Cup title with Kelantan after a 1-1 draw in the final the same year.
In 1954, Ghani made his Malaya Cup debut in Selangor's 1-0 defeat to Perak on April 24 before scoring the first of his over 100 goals for Selangor in a 5-0 win over Kedah on June 20.
In all, Ghani featured in eight Malaya Cup and Malaysia Cup finals, winning seven and scoring in four finals in 1959, 1961, 1963 and 1968.
A Straits Times preview of the 1956 final likened Ghani to free-scoring Singapore legend Awang Bakar and described the Selangor centre-forward as "a player, who with a couple of lightning thrusts and crashing shots, can be a match-winner."
"Ghani is what Awang Bakar was for Singapore, a player who lurks like a dark shadow behind every defender's mind, who draws them all to his compelling and darting presence and yet eludes them in a flash when his moment comes."
Ghani had his best year in 1963 when an all-conquering Selangor team won all 15 matches in the Malaya Cup with a record 106 goals with the forward accounting for 34 goals, including four in the 6-2 final rout of Penang.
Two years earlier, Ghani scored a remarkable 10 goals in Selangor's 19-0 FAM Cup semi-final rout of Kelantan which attracted the interest of Bill Jones, the manager of Cardiff City who were then just relegated from the English First Division.
Ghani, along with Singapore's Quah Kim Swee, were offered professional terms but both turned the Welsh club down.
In the European winter of 1962-63, Ghani and Malacca's Robert Choe embarked on a four-month trip to Germany, England and Spain to train with top European clubs.
After spending two months in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt, they left for England where they had planned to train with West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham.
But the extremely cold weather conditions in England only allowed the duo to train intermittently with the Hammers though they were able to watch several FA Cup ties before watching Real Madrid train in Spain.
Eintracht coach Dietmar Kremar said of Ghani: "Quite an excellent player. A match-winner in the best European manner."
Ghani first played for Malaya in a non-international friendly against Hong Kong league champions Kowloon Bus Company in 1954 but marked his full international debut in March 1956 by scoring seven goals in a 9-2 rout of Cambodia at the TPCA Stadium.
The 1968 Malaysia Cup final, which saw Selangor hammer Penang 8-1, marked Ghani's retirement from football.