PRE­PARED FOR ANY­THING

ONG Kim Swee’s ten­ure as na­tional coach may soon come to an end and the former in­ter­na­tional speaks to Time­s­port’s AJITPAL SINGH on the un­cer­tainty, his re­cent stint with Queens Park Rangers and other matters.

New Straits Times - - Sport -

Ques­tion: A lot of things have been said by con­cerned par­ties about your fu­ture as the na­tional coach as changes are ex­pected af­ter the FA of Malaysia (FAM) elec­tion on March 25. Al­though you have a con­tract un­til the end of the year, sev­eral par­ties are already talking about hir­ing a new na­tional coach. What do you think about this and do you have options?

An­swer: I knew this ques­tion was com­ing … many have asked me about this. It is sim­ple, I have an ex­ist­ing con­tract. Peo­ple can say what­ever they want. As long I am still un­der the same man­age­ment and they want me to carry on, I will do so with hon­our.

New pres­i­dents of clubs or as­so­ci­a­tions will nor­mally come with their own ideas. It hap­pens ev­ery­where in the world. Def­i­nitely, a new pres­i­dent will want his na­tional team or club to be bet­ter.

So, if the new pres­i­dent and elected mem­bers of FAM want me to leave and re­place me with some­one else, I will have no is­sues with the de­ci­sion as long as it ben­e­fits the coun­try.

If the pres­i­dent thinks a new coach will be bet­ter, then go ahead. It is nor­mal for coaches to come and go … but of course, they must do it in a proper way.

I do not want to think about it. Let me fo­cus and fin­ish the match against the Philip­pines in Manila on Wed­nes­day… Let’s see what hap­pens dur­ing the FAM elec­tion.

What­ever the out­come, I will take it pro­fes­sion­ally but I also hope things will be pro­fes­sion­ally han­dled (over his con­tract and fu­ture).

Of course, I think about it some­times… well I will have to look for some­thing else if it hap­pens. Coaching a club will of course be an op­tion. But I can’t say that only clubs and na­tional teams will be options for me. I am open for any­thing.

I went through the sys­tem both as a player and a coach from youth to se­nior level. I have gone through a lot over the years and I am ready for any­thing. Q: The friendly against the Philip­pines on Wed­nes­day will be your 24th game in charge of the na­tional team — both as a care­taker and full-time coach — over dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods since 2014. In the pre­vi­ous 23 matches, your team achieved eight wins, seven draws and eight de­feats, scor­ing 23 and con­ced­ing 29. Are you happy with what you have achieved so far?

A: I think the best mo­ments I had with the na­tional team were dur­ing

my in­terim pe­riod (three matches in 2014 and five matches in 2015). It was my best time and I had no is­sues then as I could get who­ever (play­ers) I wanted (for as­sign­ments and matches).

But I have been fac­ing many ob­sta­cles since my job be­came per­ma­nent… it has made my job more difficult. It is part of be­ing a coach, so I have to ac­cept it.

Al­though my na­tional team record does not seem very good, I think I have done my best in terms of try­ing to im­prove the team. It is still a long way to go and prob­a­bly with a few changes af­ter this, we can get much bet­ter. Q: What is the tar­get for the friendly against the Philip­pines? A: It will be good to start the sea­son with an in­ter­na­tional win to act as mo­ti­va­tion for up­com­ing matches. We need to win this in the hope of im­prov­ing our rank­ing, which is cur­rently World No 161.

The ini­tial plan was to use the match as a warm-up for the tie against North Korea (Asian Cup Qual­i­fy­ing Group B match) in Py­ongyang on March 28 be­fore it was post­poned to June 8.

It was part of my plan to get the play­ers adapted to the ar­ti­fi­cial pitch at Rizal Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Manila be­fore we play on the same type of pitch in Py­ongyang.

The Philip­pines are an im­proved team and we can­not take them lightly. When I was in­terim coach in 2014, we drew 0-0 (in Se­layang) and 1-1 (in Cebu).

Q: Over the years, many tal­ented lo­cals have gone over­seas — mostly through FAM’s initiatives — to try their luck in Europe but none made it. What is your opin­ion about this?

A: We must send our play­ers abroad to train and try their luck with teams in Europe. But we should only con­sider young­sters, be­tween the ages of 14 and 17, as they can learn a lot about be­ing a

pro­fes­sional foot­baller and also im­prove their skills.

In Malaysia, some 21 year-olds are already earn­ing about RM40,000 a month and they will un­likely go to Europe as chances are they will strug­gle.

A lot of fans are talking about mid­fielder Wan Kuzain Wan Ka­mal (who plays for Swope Park Rangers in the United Soc­cer League in the United States) and right-back Dion Cools (playing for Bel­gian side Club Brugge) but both do not want to re­turn to Malaysia. They have been brought up there and they think dif­fer­ently about things.

Wan Kuzain is a good player and he can eas­ily walk into our na­tional se­nior team. As for Cools, he has played for Bel­gian’s youth teams and is now try­ing to get into their se­nior side.

In Europe, friend­ships are put aside. Only the tal­ented ones are of­fered con­tracts. We re­ally need to send our youth play­ers over­seas to take the

next step for­ward.

Q: You were at QPR for a one-month learn­ing stint. What did you ob­serve there and will you ap­ply QPR’s coaching sys­tems in Malaysia?

QPR are a pro­fes­sional side and you can­not fol­low ev­ery­thing they do. We have to be re­al­is­tic in some as­pects. They have qual­ity and their play­ers earn about £20,000 (RM110,000) per week. Their play­ers are mo­ti­vated to earn more and they are very dis­ci­plined in train­ing and matches.

What we can learn from them is tac­tics. But when you ap­ply tac­tics, you need to look at the qual­ity of play­ers you have.

Let’s say a coach wants to play an at­tack­ing game. He needs to gauge whether he has qual­ity strik­ers to keep pos­ses­sion and at­tack­ing play­ers who can put con­stant pres­sure on op­po­nents. You have to look at a lot of as­pects be­fore you can ap­ply tac­tics.

When I was there, QPR coach Ian Hol­loway em­ployed sev­eral sys­tems. He played the 3-5-2, 44-2, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 for­ma­tions. I ob­served them and it has given me in­sights on what I can do with play­ers here or in the fu­ture, maybe when I han­dle a club.

It is eas­ier when you are han­dling a club as you get to train your play­ers on a daily ba­sis. As for the na­tional team, a coach can­not do much as he nor­mally gets only a week with

the play­ers ahead of a match. A (na­tional) coach can­not make whole­sale changes in a short pe­riod of time.

Q: In terms of qual­ity, what is the dif­fer­ence be­tween play­ers in Eng­land and Malaysia?

A:

The qual­ity is to­tally dif­fer­ent. I can only speak about QPR and what I saw was the pro­fes­sional at­ti­tude of their play­ers. They know they need to work hard in train­ing and give to­tal com­mit­ment in matches.

On train­ing days, play­ers re­port two hours prior for break­fast, fol­lowed by gym and video anal­y­sis sessions and then prac­tice. Af­ter that, the play­ers and coaches have lunch to­gether be­fore they take a break. It is a daily rou­tine.

The play­ers show pro­fes­sion­al­ism in all as­pects. Diet is very im­por­tant and they only eat proper food. Be­ing a suc­cess­ful foot­baller in Eng­land brings mon­e­tary ben­e­fits.

Play­ers from a Cham­pi­onship team earn an av­er­age of £20,000 a week and they are mo­ti­vated by it to work hard all the time.

In Eng­land, play­ers are men­tally very tough and they are al­ways fight­ing for first team ac­tion. The money is good in the game and play­ers know that if they are con­sis­tent in train­ing and matches, big­ger clubs will come for them.

The com­pe­ti­tion among play­ers in QPR’s var­i­ous academy teams is also stiff. Money is also good and a tal­ented re­serve league player can earn be­tween £10,000-15,000 a month. The academies at big­ger clubs such as Arse­nal and Tot­ten­ham Hot­spurs pay even higher.

Q: Your father, Ong Ch­wee Guan, passed away last week when you were on board a re­turn flight from Eng­land. Did he in­spire you to be a foot­baller and how has his pass­ing af­fected you?

A:

It is very difficult for any­one when they lose their loved ones. My dad was a former goal­keeper for Malacca Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion Foot­ball Club in the 1960s. (Datuk) Soh Chin Aun also played for the same

club but my dad is more se­nior.

He was a quiet but a car­ing per­son. He was very proud of me when I made it as a foot­baller with the na­tional youth and se­nior teams in the 1990s.

He was al­ways en­cour­ag­ing me when I was grow­ing up to do my best in foot­ball. He ad­vised me to never give up even if there were chal­lenges. I owe him for what I have achieved in life as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller and coach.

I remember the days when Malacca played their home matches at Kubu Sta­dium. He would pick me up from school and we would go to the sta­dium to watch matches.

He was an ardent Malacca fan and he would travel for away games. Los­ing him, of course, will af­fect my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my mother. When he was alive, he would go buy fresh fish from Kle­bang Beach for lunch or din­ner and pre­pare ev­ery­thing else when I came home for hol­i­days. It will be very dif­fer­ent now with­out him around.

He passed away quite sud­denly. He was very fit and one the day, he fainted and went into a coma. He had been wash­ing his car. It is quite sud­den as he was not feel­ing un­well. He was in a coma for a day be­fore he passed away.

So, if the new pres­i­dent and elected mem­bers of FAM want me to leave and re­place me with some­one else, I will have no is­sues with the de­ci­sion as long as it ben­e­fits the coun­try.

Ong Kim Swee over­sees the na­tional team train­ing in Ke­lana Jaya re­cently in prepa­ra­tion for their friendly against Philip­pines.

Wan Kuzain Wan Ka­mal (left) is cur­rently playing for Swope Park Rangers in the US while Dion Cools has signed with Club Brugge in Bel­gium.

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