Avineshwaran Taharumalengam is one of Malaysian football’s foremost voices and whose written prose captures Malaysia’s passion for the beautiful game. He is one of Malaysia’s go-to football pundits and an authority on the ins and outs of local football.
The appointment of Hong Kong favourite Kim Pan Gon as manager of the Malaysian Men’s national team has signaled a new era for the side. Kim Pan Gon was known for his passion and total commitment. Although it is early days, many Malaysian football fans hope for a similar upturn in fortunes for their team.
In an exclusive interview, Avineshwaran Taharumalengam gave his thoughts on Kim’s appointment and the state of Malaysian football in general.
Photo: Avineshwaran Taharumalengam
With his tenure in Hong Kong and his stint with the South Korean Football Association, Kim Pan Gon does have a sterling reputation. Has Kim always been amongst the front runners to be the new Malaysian Men’s National Team Coach? Taharumalengam discussed the selection process and which other coaches were in the running.
“There were many candidates, and according to a source in FAM, Vietnam’s coach Park Hang-seo expressed his interest in coaching Malaysia. Negotiations happened, but details were not disclosed on why the deal did not materialize. Then came the likes of Kim Hak-bum and Kim Byung-soo, both with a good reputation in South Korea, and also popular foreign coaches in the local scene like Bojan Hodak, who used to play in Hong Kong and Mehmet Durakovic. Kim Pan-gon expressed his interest in coaching the team, and I was told he submitted his interest to FAM.”
“Also, FAM has a good working relationship with the South Korean Football Association, so they did say good things about him, especially during his time as vice-president of KFA. Plus, his ability to speak good English and understanding of Southeast Asian football convinced FAM that he is the man for the job. FAM also believes that the Malaysian football ecosystem and Hong Kong are almost similar, hence the decision to hire Pan-Gon.”
How the Fans and Journalists Feel About Kim Pan Gon
Kim Pan Gon was eventually announced as a coach and Taharumalengam gave voice to what are probably the team’s largest stakeholders, the fans and members of the media, thought of this appointment.
“In Malaysia, the fans have lots to say about any appointment. The first thing they checked out was his time in Hong Kong and his record. Some even said that they are copying the blueprint of Vietnam and Indonesia, which also have South Koreans in charge. So many started saying that Malaysia was resorting to the ‘Oppa’ way to revitalize our football. But after his first press conference, many were happy with the way he dealt with the questions, and he also made himself present in some games, dressed formally, which raised lots of interest. Some could say it is a charm offensive but based on what we’ve seen so far, he does mean business in making Malaysia a force in Southeast Asian football. –
Coach Kim has only been in charge for a few games and faced a couple of tough tests in the tri-nations series against Singapore and Malaysia. Taharumalengam said the upcoming qualifiers and the eventual results would be the best gauge of Kim’s role thus far.
“Coach Kim has only been in charge for a few games (Tri-Nations) – Has he made a good impression so far with Malaysian sports journalists? It is still early days if you ask me. The real test would be the final round of Asia Cup qualifiers. The draw has been good for Malaysia. Maybe they would face opposition from Bahrain, but the other two sides – Bangladesh and Turkmenistan, Malaysia have a chance. He has answered our questions and was even surprised that we questioned his decision not to select some players who were on form in the league. But based on what we’ve seen so far, he has been good, but still early days.“
JDT Johor in the Asian Champions League
As a country, Malaysia loves both domestic and overseas football and many talented players. The rise of teams like JDT Johor who (at the time of writing) have just defeated Ulsan (K League) to reach the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League shows the progress of the Malaysian Super League.
Malaysia at the Asian Cup and SEA Games
Malaysia has a decent football playing population and football is etched into everyday society yet they never seem to fulfill their vast potential. The Malaysian Men’s team have qualified for three past AFC Asian Cups (1976, 1980 and 2007) while the Women’s team have consistently qualified (until recently) for the Asian Cup (1975, 1979, 1983, 1986, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2001).
The Men’s team have fared well at the South East Asian Games though their last gold medal was in 2011 and their last medal (silver) was in 2017 when they lost to Thailand in the final.
Malaysia’s Naturalization Programme
Malaysia had a much vaunted Naturalization programme launched in 2018. This scheme had high hopes of boosting Malaysia’s chances of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar.
The naturalization project came under huge scrutiny after Malaysia lost key World Cup qualifiers to Vietnam and the UAE and some had harsh words for the idea.
“Naturalisation of players is stupid” said Santokh Singh, a mainstay for Malaysia in the seventies and eighties, in an initial interview with the APF.
“We’ve got so many good local players who are capable of performing better than the foreigners. they are not getting a chance to play,”
Others have said that the structure and organization of Malaysian football needs to be addressed.
“I think there are more important structural issues to bring long-term success,” Steve Darby, a coach who has worked in Malaysia, told AFP.
“Improve training facilities and also stadium pitches.”
Sathiananthan, Malaysia’s national coach from 2007-2009, said it was understandable that coaches sometimes looked to the policy.
“If you are given a two-year contract, do you think you can wait for local players to hit form?” he said.
Taharumalengam gave expert insight into why Malaysia seems to struggle to truly fulfil its excellent football potential.
“One would be the discipline and desire of the people in the game. There is so much potential in Malaysia, but we seem comfortable in our own shells, but I was told that things are changing, and based on my conversations with several people here, there is optimism, but for any optimism to work, the work has to be there.”
He said the some players needed more international experience, not only for playing experience, but to gain further professional experience in terms of attitude and outlook.
“It’s delusional to dream and not do anything about it. We also need more boys to be based overseas. Learn, stay strong, get a worldview of things and come back a stronger person. Professionalism needs work too. Yes, every character has their own dynamics, but to truly succeed in the game, there must be some semblance of professionalism. From top to bottom of the professional football setup, we have to be better.”
Malaysia play Hong Kong on June 1st, and life will come full circle for Coach Kim Pan Gon as he faces Hong Kong. Coach Kim gave HK Football some of its best memories though a new era of his career beckons.