Ong Kim Swee to Atletico Madrid as Malaysia target 2020 Olympics
Malaysia under-23 coach Ong Kim Swee is heading to Atletico Madrid to develop his skills after leading the Young Tigers to the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 Championship.
Malaysia defied the odds by finishing ahead of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to reach the last eight of the continental tournament.
And Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) president Tunku Ismail Ibrahim (TMJ) confirmed that the mastermind of the under-23s impressive performance in China was travelling to Spain as the country bids to reach the next level.
"Kim Swee will be heading to Spain in March for a month or two. This was planned six months ago," TMJ said, as reported in The New Straits Times.
"I believe the exposure will help him improve in all aspects of coaching, which will bring positives to his under-23 squad."
Not forgetting my coaching and backroom staffs for being my pillar throughout the entire campaign from qualifiers in Bangkok. Dr Redzwan, Darren, Andy, Hilmi, Azmi, Aziz, Sukri, Siva, WF.— ONG KIM SWEE (@OKS_HarimauMsia) January 21, 2018
You guys made it happened!! pic.twitter.com/HDBJ5E8ILR
TMJ also hopes that some of the young stars who have emerged in the U23 showpiece will try their luck abroad to develop their careers and boost the national team.
"I hope all under-23 players will be able to play overseas," TMJ said. "Whoever gets the chance or an offer to play in a higher level competition should go...don't stay here. It will benefit the national team in the future."
Meanwhile, Malaysia's 2020 Olympic hopefuls have been boosted by an offer of support from the Sports Ministry following the excellent performance in China.
In two years' time, the top three sides in the AFC U23 Championship will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. And the Malaysian Sports Ministry has vowed to provide all the support it can to the FAM to give Malaysia the best possible chance of making it to Japan.
After discussions with TMJ, Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin revealed that there had been a commitment to helping out the team that excelled in China.
"I have discussed it [Olympic qualification] with the FAM president and we will see how we can offer support, through sports science, for instance," Khairy said.
"This under-23 success is not only for Kim Swee, but also the new FAM management. The preparation and planning were better.
"You can argue these players were developed long ago, but the preparation and exposure toward the end was very important. I think there is real change taking place."
With the success of this year's AFC U23 campaign fresh in the memory, Ong is keen for the momentum to be maintained by putting plans in place to support the Olympic qualification bid.
And Khairy insists that he fully appreciates the importance of planning ahead with the players who will be eligible for Tokyo.
"With the improvement shown by the under-19 squad under Bojan Hodak and NFDP (National Football Development Programme) coming through, I am not going to say the future is great but there is more than hope," Khairy said.
"These things should not be seen in the context of developing the national team only. You have to look at the entire ecosystem.
"The league is getting better and when you have top teams raising the bar then of course the players will get better.
"A lot of the under-23 players are playing for top clubs and they have shown they can perform at the highest level."
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK