SEA Games: The five coaches who led Malaysia to glory

As Malaysia head into the SEA Games with hopes of winning the gold medal on home soil, FourFourTwo takes a look at the five former coaches that guided the Tigers to the top – including current Malaysia Under-22 coach Ong Kim Swee, who is seeking his second goal medal in four attempts. 

M. KUPPAN (1977 KUALA LUMPUR)

Having called it quits on his career at 30 in 1967, the former international became Malaysia coach just five years later.

His first stint was brief as he returned to Penang to guide them to the Malaysia Cup in 1974 – their last triumph in the competition till today – before returning to the national set-up.

Malaysia were co-winners of the King's Cup in Thailand in 1976 and 1977. Malaysia also won the Merdeka Tournament in 1976.

Kuppan (far left) Photo: FAM

Malaysia suffered an early exit in the World Cup qualifiers in 1977 after being stunned by Hong Kong in the shootout, but the Kuppan-guided squad defeated Thailand 2-0 to win the SEA Games at home eight months later.

His other roles in football include Penang coaching director and Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) technical committee member.

KARL HEINZ WEIGANG (1979 JAKARTA)

The late German needs no further introduction.

His SEA Games success is often overlooked but that is only because Weigang achieved greater heights with Malaysia. Yet defeating Indonesia on their ground brought much joy in the Games then.

Weigang later led the Tigers to qualify for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but the team never made it because of a US-led boycott of the Games in protest of the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.

His impact on Malaysian football was told through the blockbuster 2016 film 'Ola Bola', an adaptation of the 1980 qualification that promoted unity and gave many a reason to believe again.

Weigang, who is revered in Perak for the success he brought them in the 1998 and 2000 Malaysia Cup, also coached Johor, Ghana, Vietnam, Mali and Gabon.

Weigang returned to Perak in a dual head coach and technical director in 2016, but ended his contract prematurely in February the following year. He died of a heart attack at 81 in June.

TREVOR HARTLEY (1989 KUALA LUMPUR)

The Englishman was the last foreign coach to taste success in Malaysia and he was hired in 1989 with the sole purpose of winning the gold medal on home soil.

His CV then included being a former Singapore technical director and former Tottenham Hotspurs caretaker coach.

Photo: UPPA

In a previous interview with FourFourTwo, Hartley said: “We used the 1990 World Cup qualifiers (held in early 1989) and then we went on a short tour of Asia to play games. They didn’t care about results at the time and just cared about the SEA Games.”

The final in 1989 was held on August 31, the nation's Independence Day, and having defeated powerhouses Thailand 1-0 in the last-four, the Malaysians confidently brushed past arch-rivals Singapore 3-1 at Merdeka Stadium.

K. RAJAGOPAL (2009 VIENTIANE)

He is Malaysia’s longest serving coach and the one who led the generation of players that brought the crowd back to stadiums.

Under his watch, Malaysia ended a 20-year wait for the Games' top prize and later followed that up with the AFF Suzuki Cup the following year – the country’s first. His names was on everyone’s lips as Safiq Rahim and company rose to the occasion to deliver the goods.

His term came to an end despite seeming to narrow the gap with strong Middle Eastern countries as failure to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup led to calls for change by many quarters.

He returned to coaching with Sarawak in the 2016 season but parted ways with the club after unfavourable results.

ONG KIM SWEE (2011 JAKARTA)

Having taken over the under-23 squad from Rajagobal, Ong continued Malaysia’s winning ways in the region in 2011, under circumstances that will only send shivers down one’s spine.

The rivalries between the two countries meant tensions were high and the Indonesian fans were keen for their nation to get any advantage possible by creating a hostile atmosphere. Such was the threat that the Malaysians had to travel to the stadium in armoured vehicles.

Photo: Asiana.my

Ong turned that into Malaysia’s advantage by telling the players “They don't respect you, they don't respect our flag, they don't respect our King and they don't respect your parents. If you allow this to happen, then you are cowards. You must teach them what being Malaysian is all about.”

Malaysia’s next two Games under his watch ended in failures and Ong, after a rather ‘cursed’ stint with the national team, is out for redemption after being demoted back to the SEA Games squad. He has already ensured Malaysia qualified for their first AFC Under-23 Championship, which takes place in January.