Marko Kraljevic, Telling It Like It Is: I didn't know where Malaysia was

FourFourTwo series 'Telling it like it is', when Southeast Asian football identities give us rare personal insights in their own words, is back for 2017. To kick us off, popular Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic reveals his thoughts from his time playing and coaching in Singapore and Malaysia...

I was playing for Osijek in Yugoslavia back in 1991 and one day a Croatian manager asked me if I wanted to go to Malaysia.

I didn’t even know where Malaysia was.

It was a good league (in Malaysia) but there was something very strange about it and it was very different to what I was used to

I wasn’t really playing for my team that much and was on the bench a lot of the time. So I thought ‘why not, let’s take the challenge’.

Malaysia was great. There were good crowds everywhere.

I remember my first game for Kelantan against Selangor at the Merdeka Stadium. There was a full house of 45,000 people and it was a big game.

It was a long way from home but the passion was there. They were crazy about the game.

It was a good league but there was something very strange about it and it was very different to what I was used to.

Kraljevic is in his fourth season with the Tigers

For us back home in Europe, football was everything. It was well-organised and when you came into the dressing room, everything was ready for you.

There were good pitches, training gear, boots, you had a physio, a doctor – it was really good.

But back then in Malaysia, it was a long way from that.

In Croatia, we played on our main pitch just once a week. The rest of the time we were at the training ground.

But in Malaysia, we were training and playing on the same pitch, so it wasn’t in good condition.

There were some very good players. Dollah Salleh was great and there was Zainal Abidin Hassan. It was a good league but there was just no intensity.

They were just using their skill – and they were very skillful – but we weren’t mentally strong and this was always a problem.

If one little thing went wrong, then everything would go wrong.

Ex-foe Dollah also moved into coaching

I remember a game with Selangor, we were given a red card and we did not react well mentally. This happened often.

I stayed for four years, which was a long time, much longer than I expected. But it was a great place to be. I was always signing a one-year contract.

I stayed for four years, which was a long time, much longer than I expected. But it was a great place to be

I must have been the best import there, otherwise they would have looked for another.

I was lucky not to get injured but I always believe if you work hard then you deserve luck.

I had a good time and was sad to leave. New management came in and they told me they wanted change and they would bring in some new foreign players and if I was better than them, I could stay. I decided to go.

They enjoy life in Kota Bharu, it is beautiful, but you need to focus on the game and train hard.

I did extra training by myself as the training was not good enough. I was usually the only one. Now things are changing but the coach often only focuses on the team and as individuals we never improved.

[NEXT: Marko discusse Beckham, Gullit and Dalglish]