ONG Kim Swee’s tenure as national coach may soon come to an end and the former international speaks to AJITPAL SINGH on the uncertainty, his recent stint with Queens Park Rangers and other matters.
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?
A: 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, 4-4-2, 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.