ARGENTINA’S Mario Gomez has been confirmed as Malaysia’s new national head coach by incoming Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Sultan Ismail, with current senior boss Datuk Ong Kim Swee reassigned to handle the under-23 squad.
The new FAM supremo — the Johor Crown Prince who is also known as TMJ — kept to his word after previously hinting that his former Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) coach would be in charge of the national team.
“I have Mario to replace Ong Kim Swee, who will be heading to the U23 squad. Mario will have his own assistant, I will give him the freedom to choose,” said JDT owner TMJ after being confirmed as FAM president on Saturday.
“But Mario’s performance will be monitored. If I can see progress, he can be there. If he is not up to the mark, then we will have to change. Mario should be starting work by next week.”
Mario Gomez won five trophies with JDT, including the 2015 AFC Cup.
Ong’s return to Malaysia’s development squad also means that German Frank Bernhardt will no longer be part of the set up.
“I need to have a different team, and I don’t see that we can work together for some reason,” TMJ said. [Bernhardt] has a different ideology on how he does things, and so do I. But since you have selected me to become president, everyone has to respect what I want to do to improve the national team.”
Gomez abruptly left the Southern Tigers two days before the start of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) season in January, and was replaced by Mexican Benjamin Mora.
But the silver-haired 58-year-old has been JDT’s most successful coach after winning five trophies with the team over two seasons, including two MSL titles, an FA Cup, Charity Shield and a maiden AFC Cup in 2015. He also oversaw an unbeaten campaign in the 2016 league season.
TMJ also admitted getting the struggling national team to tick immediately will be a challenge in a big year for Malaysian football.
The Crown Prince of Johor says Malaysian football has been in a slump for the past three decades.
“We have been in a slump for 30 years. We have the Asian Cup qualifiers coming up, and I don’t think I can promise to get us there, I just came in. But I am going to do my best. I will be with the team, the coaches, the players and, obviously, we are going to give it our best shot and fight for the country.
“But the ultimate target is to improve the system so that for the long term, we will have a good football nation in terms of structure and the policies we set. I will need to clean up my house before I do anything.”
Malaysia are in Group B of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, along with North Korea, Lebanon and Hong Kong.
They will face North Korea in their opening game on June 8, after the initial encounter on March 28 was postponed due to security concerns.
In 2015, FAM said that failing to make the cut for the premier Asian tournament would be considered “a failure”.
Jason Dasey chats with Malaysia’s Ong Kim Swee about his side’s draw against the Philippines and his future as head coach.
Ong, meanwhile, was pleasantly surprised to return to the U23 side with whom he won the Southeast Asian Games football gold in 2011.
“It is a surprise, but also an honour to be given the chance to by the new president,” he said. “We have a lot to do, and I hope to meet the president and start a new phase before the SEA Games begin. Time is against us, but the boys have already been training together.
“It gives me another chance to try and do well on our home soil.”
Bernhardt had been given the task of delivering football gold at August’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur this August, a responsibility which Ong is now set to take on.
Malaysia won the SEA Games under Ong in 2011 when they defeated Indonesia in the final for their second title, having previously won it in 2009 under Datuk K. Rajagobal. – ESPN