Haresh Says, as published in The Malay Mail today.
Dear Datuk K. Rajagobal,
I cannot imagine what went through your head as you spoke to journalists for the final time as the national coach at Wisma FAM yesterday.
I am sure it was a humbling experience, having enjoyed the limelight during your early days after replacing B. Satianathan in 2009.
You have seen it all, having played alongside the late Mokhtar Dahari with Selangor before graduating to represent the national team in the 1980s. You tried your hand in coaching, starting with PKNS FC before enjoying stints with Selangor and Kelantan.
Naturally, your abilities caught the attention of the FA of Malaysia for you were tasked to guide the national Under-19 team before climbing up the ladder to the senior team.
Some had questioned your appointment then. But you silenced them almost immediately as the national team bagged the gold medal at the 2009 Laos Sea Games.
The Tigers continued their winning ways after emerging victorious in the 2010 Asean Cup.
The two wins – although deemed petty by your staunchest critics – created a new phenomenon among Malaysians. The young and old, men and women, boys and girls, they all spoke a common language and it was called football.
It united the masses. Fans ditched their Premier League jerseys and wore the national stripes proudly. They finally felt the sense of pride, something money cannot buy.
Politicians too jumped onto the bandwagon as the popularity of the sport was overwhelming. It is thanks to the national team’s successes that the government channelled an initial grant of RM10 million into the National Football Development Programme in 2010. It was all about football that to a certain extent, the other sports felt a little left out.
Your efforts even earned you a Datukship in 2011.
But the successes did not last for long. Fans became hungry for more. The skeptics then questioned why Malaysians were celebrating mediocrity when we should be winning competitions beyond the South-East Asian region.
Among the losses was the 6-4 (aggregate) defeat to Singapore in a World Cup qualifying match in 2011. Losing to the islanders was a bitter pill to swallow.
The team failed to defend the Asean Cup last year after losing 3-1 (in aggregate) to Thailand in the two-legged semifinals.
Fans would also remember the 1-1 draw against Bangladesh in an international friendly last year.
Everyone then started sounding like a coach. They questioned your line-up and even implied favouritism. Fans were angry with national body and they took it out on you.
Some ridiculed when you used words like “positive”, “experiment” and “ranking tidak penting” (ranking not important). They called it excuses.
For the record, Malaysia were placed 161st in the Fifa ranking in April 2009 and are now at 158.
The mounting pressure even got to your employers, who had on the sidelines admitted they decided against extending your contract as it was the “hot topic at present”.
But being your polite self, you took the decision with stride. As you mentioned yesterday, you will never turn your back on FAM and the country and will not hesitate to return if your services are required.
You stressed there is still hope for Malaysia to qualify for the 2015 Asian Cup, with one match remaining (against Yemen on March 5) and that you are proud of the boys.
You also took a swipe at former players who are quick to criticise but have done little at the grassroots. You highlighted more needs to be done by the state FAs in developing new talents.
The four years must have been an experience of your lifetime. Now, it is best for you to spend quality time with your family before charting your future plan.
You have played your part and I’m sure you have no regrets.
Thank you Rajagobal. Now we look forward to a different chapter in Malaysian football.
p/s: Hopefully we will be able to catch up for some kolkatte over tea soon.