Goal Malaysia's Hotseat with Aysha Ridzuan: Ong Kim Swee on the SEA Games and his future

In her debut with Goal Malaysia, Aysha spoke to the Malaysia U-23 head coach about the recently concluded SEA Games, his players and what the future holds for him
After the Malaysia U-23 team returned home empty handed from Myanmar, failing to defend their SEA Games gold medal, head coach Ong Kim Swee and his team had to bear with criticisms from the fans. Something that they didn't really have to deal with since they won gold in 2011.
The 43-year-old coach spoke to Goal Malaysia in an exclusive interview.

How are you? What have you been up to after the SEA Games?

I am doing fine now, I think. Currently, I am just spending some time with my family after being away from them most of the time for the past two years.

It has been almost two weeks since SEA Games 2013 ended, do you still think about it?
To tell you the truth, I still can't get over it (failure to defend the gold medal) but luckily I have my two daughters to cheer me up. It's a difficult situation to get used to as compared to the 2011 SEA Games. I still feel like I let the whole nation down.

After losing to Indonesia in the semifinal, you had a private talk with the players the next day. I heard you got a little bit emotional. What did you say to the boys and how exactly did you feel at that moment?
My principle is clear to all the players. I will protect them and be responsible no matter what the score is as long they give their best in every single game and during that period few of them were under a lot of pressure and critics as you're aware.
Secondly, the next day after the semifinal I felt very sad to bid farewell to the players who will be leaving. Those players have been my trusted army and they had put me where I am now. I wanted them to bring something back badly as a farewell gift for all their hard work for the past 7 years especially Irfan Fazail, Thamil Arasu, Fadhli Shas and even for Wan Zack though he was not with the team.

Some people were very critical of you and Harimau Muda. Do you think it's fair?
It's all part of the game. It's normal to be criticized when the team is not doing well but I'm always positive and I take all criticisms. They will make me stronger.

Safe to say that the boys who were with you for seven years were hurt the most because they felt as if they have failed you for not defending the gold medal on their last year with you. How did you feel about these players leaving you?
They are all good boys and as I said being my trusted army and I know they are very sincere towards their commitment to the team and me throughout the years. Honestly I feel sad they are leaving but at the same time I'm happy to see them grow up from school boys (from SSBJ) and now coming out earning good money. That somehow makes me happy for them and their families. It's not a surprise that the players would leave as I knew about the offers they received from Super League teams are very tempting and I don't blame anybody for that.

Most of your players mentioned that Irfan Fazail is your favourite boy in Harimau Muda. What do you think about that?
I think it's good that they know that. All the players look up to him as a leader and I don't think anyone should complain about it.

In your free time now, have you also been considering new offers?
I had so many things in my mind right after SEA Games and of course I will have to decide on my future as soon as everyone is back in the office. 

Dato' Hamidin was quoted that he will consider appointing you as the assistant coach of Malaysia National Team if FAM decided to hire a foreign coach. What do you think of the idea? Do you think it will benefit you?
It's an honour for me, even as an assistant coach of the National Team. But most importantly, the new head coach must have a say on this matter too and then I need to know what my responsibilities are besides assisting him. If Philippe Troussier or any established coach is hired, then for sure it will benefit me in a long term.

You are now the interim coach of the National Team and will begin your duties soon. What is the first thing you want to change from the team?
Very simple. The mentality needs to be changed and the team spirit needs to be improved.

What a year it has been for you and your team. Time to turn a new leaf now. What's your New Year's wish?
From 2014 onwards, actually every year,  I wish to see success in our football development, youth and national teams by working hand in hand no matter who we are. Not forgetting our Super League and Premier league too.

Aysha Ridzuan is the in-house writer & sports production professional for Astro SuperSport in Kuala Lumpur.

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