Interim Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee wants the challenging Harimau Malaya job on a permanent basis, as he explains to FourFourTwo's Vijhay Vick…
Ong has many things on his mind. His contract as Malaysia under-23 coach ends with the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) on December 31 and his future is far from settled. But he sees the present arrangement as his best possible audition.
Ong has spent the past six years nurturing young talent under the Harimau Muda system, which includes coaching the under-23 outfit since 2011.
He then answered the call to step into the national team breach following Dollah Salleh’s resignation last month and there are supporters who feel Ong deserves an extended tenure as Malaysia’s senior head coach.
At under-23 level, Ong won the SEA Games in 2011 and reached the last four two years later.
He suffered a setback when his squad failed to progress past the group stages in Singapore this year, but he was quick to point out the team only had three weeks to prepare, much shorter than in past years.
He was in the running for the Malaysian top job in 2014 – when he also played interim coach for six months – but the FAM were keen on Philippe Troussier, only to reject the Frenchman's demands and opt for Dollah instead.
In his first, brief tenure, Ong oversaw two scoreless matches against the Philippines and a 2-1 away win against Yemen in the 2015 Asian Cup qualifiers.
If I can prove something in these coming matches, then that's staking a claim
With Dollah stepping down after the disastrous 10-0 loss to United Arab Emirates, Ong’s next opportunity pulling the reins of the national team came in the infamous Saudi Arabia clash in Kuala Lumpur on September 8.
As has been well documented, the Saudis were winning 2-1 in the dying stages when crowd trouble forced an early end. FIFA responded this week by fining FAM 40,000 Swiss Francs (RM180,000) and forcing them to play their next home game without fans.
Ong (seen above addressing the senior squad) has offers from Malaysia Super League sides for next season, but has put that on hold to convince his currents employers he is fit for the job. He is even willing to be an assistant coach if FAM decide to appoint a top foreign coach.
However, Ong insisted he would not send in an application to continue his tenure with FAM.
"Why should I apply? I am already an employee of FAM. We are not talking about a corporate environment. This is football and it is up to FAM to decide how I have fared," he said.
"I am fortunate I have a 'probation' period with the national team now. I want to make an impression. If I can prove something in these coming matches, then that's staking a claim.
"I have other offers but everything is on hold because I have a job to do here. Furthermore, based on discussions with the FAM management, they have plans for me ... only that it is not finalised.
"I understand there are calls for a good foreign coach and if that candidate is a top one, I'm even willing to be his assistant. I could learn a lot. I also gave this suggestion when FAM were talking to Troussier.”
Malaysia play a friendly against Laos on Thursday and then travel to face Timor Leste in a World Cup qualifier in Dili next week.
alaysia are bottom of Group A, level on one point with Timor Leste but with a much worse goal difference. Saudi Arabia are top of the group with nine points followed by UAE on seven. Palestine are in third with four points.
Ong conceded the top two teams were beyond reach due to a difference in class, but he hopes Malaysia could at the very least secure a direct entry to the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.
Third placed teams and the four best fourth-placed teams across all eight groups enter the qualifiers, while the rest compete in a play-off.
"We have not won a match this year. I need to bring the confidence of the players back," said Ong.
"I have been tuning up the players' attitude and mentality since Sunday. Our players tend to be happy over short-term success. But the positive display against Saudi should only be the start. The players need to keep their hunger and discipline.
"We have some quality. It's only the approach and mindset. I spoke to my assistants – Brad Maloney and Kris Yong – when we were called to step in. I told them it was a heavy task to lift the team but let's take the challenge.
"I would say the bounce back was 50 per cent tactical and the rest were psychological. I also have some leaders in the team such as Safiq Rahim, Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Amri Yahyah and Aidil Zafuan Radzak. I look to them to play an influential role too."
Ong expects a vastly improved game from Laos under Steve Darby as compared to their habit of leaking goals in previous years. The Malaysians know Laos have talent, but have raised doubts over whether they can keep pace for 90 minutes.
Yet Ong feels it is anyone's guess how Timor Leste will line-up after yet another recent coaching reshuffle, this time with Italian Luciano Foschi brought in.
Brazilian Fabio Magrao was in charge for their visit to Kuala Lumpur in June before his compatriot Fernando Alcantara took charge against Saudi Arabia in September.
"I have looked at their strengths and weaknesses but I just can't get the best preparation done because they have a new coach in place ... an Italian and we all know how the Italians are tight at the back,” Ong said.
"How they will play as a unit when we meet is anyone's guess.”
Main photo: Football Association of Malaysia