Interviews

Tan Cheng Hoe: Sacrifices needed to lift Malaysia from “lowest point”

New Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe is no stranger to the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) or the national team. Finally handed the reins of the Malaysian team following two stints as assistant coach, the former Kedah man tells FourFourTwo he feels his time has come.

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Tan was the fan favourite to become Harimau Malaya coach when Nelo Vingada resigned on Wednesday, having lost six of his seven matches in charge.

Frankly I was shocked because I never expected it. It’s a big task and will be a challenge for me

- Tan Cheng Hoe

The FAM swiftly appointed Tan, who was Vingada’s assistant, on Thursday and he will now be entrusted to chart Malaysia’s future in international football.

“It’s a great honour to be Malaysia head coach and I thank FAM president Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim for having faith in me,” Tan told FourFourTwo.

“Frankly I was shocked because I never expected it. It’s a big task and will be a challenge for me. Malaysia are also at their lowest point in international football.

“I hope I get the support of everyone and be given the time, which is crucial in making the change for the long-term.”

Tan replaces Nelo Vingada, who stepped down this week

The 49-year-old Tan is well aware of the challenges ahead, but he also knows what is needed to achieve success with the national team.

Tan was K. Rajagobal’s assistant during Malaysia’s successful period when they won the 2009 SEA Games and 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. Both were historic moments as Malaysia had not won the Games since 1989 and had never won the latter.

The biggest question mark on Tan has been whether he has the charisma for the top job

The pair were Malaysia’s longest serving in the dugout and surely Tan would have learned more than a thing or two from Rajagobal, who is among the best coaches the country has produced.

The biggest question mark on Tan has been whether he has the charisma for the top job, but his Kedah outing prior to rejoining the FAM in 2017 suggests otherwise.

Tan was credited for turning Kedah from a second tier side to Malaysia Super League (MSL) contenders in under three years after he joined midway through the 2014 season.

Kedah won the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) title in 2015 and reached the Malaysia Cup final.

Tan showed his class while working with Kedah

The following year, they came third in the top flight and won the Malaysia Cup.

Kedah won the 2017 FA Cup a month after he left them but it was all Tan’s hard work of getting the team together and through the earlier rounds. Kedah were playing the best football at the start of the year.

Everyone must be willing to make sacrifices and have the desire to play for the country

Tan was quick to dismiss expectations that those Kedah fortunes and style of play could be transferred to the national team because it was different ball game altogether.

Yet that is where he aspires to take Malaysia.

“It’s not an easy task and will take time to replicate something similar for the national team. International football is different from the domestic league.

“As coach I want to give confidence to the players. Everyone must be willing to make sacrifices and have the desire to play for the country.

Tan will work closely with Tunku Ismail to determine the next steps

“We need players that want to play and a winning mentality should be instilled too. Things can be done. I am looking to draw my experience from my time as assistant and get things going,” said Tan.

Tan is aware of calls to inject more youngsters in the squad and he pointed to the Malaysia Under-22 players that have already been given a taste of the senior set-up.

Malaysia’s age-group teams have a busy year ahead in 2018 as they have qualified for AFC’s Under-16, Under-19 and Under-23 Championships.

Tan will be keeping tabs on the youngsters but admits that he will discuss the matter with Tunku Ismail before deciding what approach would be taken.

Malaysia’s only competition in 2018 is the Suzuki Cup at the end of the year, with the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers – which commence in 2019 – perhaps a more important period to focus on.

“The Under-23 and Under-19 teams will get good exposure by playing with some of the best teams in Asia next year and I hope these players gain more experience from it,” said Tan.

“I will discuss things with Tunku Ismail in the near future to get a clearer picture of the direction of the national team.”

Photos: Asiana.my