Is Malaysia heading towards another coaching disaster?

Malaysia’s national team and under-23 side are both currently without a head coach. The Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) plan is to appoint an under-23 coach first, before filling the senior vacancy by the end of the year. Vijhay Vick argues the senior post should be the immediate priority…

It doesn’t take a genius to identify that in a perfect world, the senior team and under-23 line-up should play the same style of football. It allows the players to easily fit in when required to make the step-up.

In a land where egos often get the better of work at hand, it would be wise to ensure both head coaches see eye-to-eye, or at the very least be on the same page.

The last thing the FAM needs is another rivalry similar to the one that existed between K. Rajagobal and Ong Kim Swee.

It is no secret the two did not enjoy a cordial relationship when Rajagobal was in charge of the national team. The duo regularly tussled for players between 2011 and 2013 and news the two could not get along was widespread.

Ahead of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final against Thailand, Rajagobal was asked if he would get Ong Kim Swee’s observations, considering the latter was in Bangkok commentating on Thailand’s group matches.

Rajagobal brushed the question aside, stating: “You must understand that youth level is a different game altogether.”

Respect among the coaches is important and, by the looks of it, FAM could be about to re-create a similar environment.

That would do no favours for either the coaches or the players.

In a press conference last week, FAM deputy president Datuk Abdul Mokthar Ahmad repeatedly said a panel would meet this week to shortlist candidates for the under-23 post.

OKS feels he's ready for the senior job on a permanent basis

It is a position the National Sports Council (NSC) has interest in because they foot a portion of the bill.

He added that the FAM only plans to fill the senior post, left vacant by Dollah Salleh in September, at the end of the year.

The panel consists of three officials apiece from both the FAM and the NSC, but a final decision must be endorsed at the FAM executive committee meeting on November 27 before any announcement is made. Since Mokhtar spoke to the press, there has been no talk of hiring a senior coach before that time.

The under-23 team’s next major assignment is only the SEA Games in 2017, while the senior team has the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup plus an all-important 2019 Asian Cup qualifier early next year.

It is puzzling why more emphasis is placed on hiring an under-23 manager first. Unless of course FAM don’t see the rush and are acting in such a manner because NSC are insisting on getting the SEA Games position filled soonest.

In an ideal environment, the senior team would be prioritised because only that team can reflect the standing of a country in world football. FIFA rankings are only based on the results of the senior team.

There is no doubt FAM need to work their way back up, developing the younger age groups, but the under-23 bracket could be considered too advanced to introduce drastic changes.

So why not focus development energy on even lower age brackets and let the national team and under-23 work in sync to carry the torch until the system produces a new generation of players?

This brings us back to the point of having good relationships between the senior team and the under-23 coach. Why not fill the Harimau Malaya hot seat first and let the chosen one play a role in picking the under-23 coach?

FAM does not need to look further than regional powerhouses Thailand, who are threatening to break into Asia’s elite. Thailand can also show FAM how important it is to have a succession plan for the coaches.

The War Elephants installed Kiatisuk Senamuang as head coach after his under-23 side swept secured the 2013 SEA Games gold medal. Under his watch, Thailand won the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup and currently lead their group in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

While blessed with a golden generation of players, how their senior team and under-23 side align is another reason for Thailand’s success. The team that won the AFF Suzuki Cup played the same style as the 2013 SEA Games squad.

The side that claimed the 2015 SEA Games under Thailand assistant coach Choketawee Promrut also played the same style of football.

Malaysia could do worse than follow Thailand's example

With under-23 players such as Matthew Davies, Nazirul Naim Che Hashim, Shahrul Saad and Adam Nor Azlin breaking into the Malaysian national team, it would not help their progress by playing two different styles of football.

The players need as many matches as possible to adapt to international football and being accustomed to the same style would allow them to slot in seamlessly.

By appointing a senior team coach first – or at the very least concurrent with the under-23 post – FAM will also show respect to the coaches under their payroll.

Malaysian caretaker Ong is currently in limbo. His contracts end on December 31 and he has no clue what the future holds as the national body has given him no indication of retaining his services.

Having occupied the under-23 post since 2011, Ong has been waiting for his time to coach on the biggest stage. He told FourFourTwo he wants the national team post on a permanent basis and had put other offers on hold.

FAM are not obliged to hand him the Malaysia job fulltime, but out of respect for a man who had loyally served them for years, it would be best to fill the position as soon as possible so Ong could start looking elsewhere if he is not their man.

Even the various Harimau Muda coaches are uncertain of their future as FAM have not announced their plans for 2016.

Malaysian football has been suffering through a mostly downward trend of late. It is time to get the right people into the positions required now so they can start turning things around.